Home' HR Monthly : February 2017 Contents 32
Bad to the bone
Around a quarter of all Australians su er from back pain on any day.
How can HR help su erers to stay pain-free at work?
HEALTH & WELLBEING
Sitting at a desk for six to eight hours a day
can increase the health risks associated with
a sedentary lifestyle. Not only can it boost
the likelihood of developing cancer, diabetes
and heart disease, but it is also proving to be
a serious pain in the back.
Back pain can be debilitating, so it's
associated with significant workforce
absenteeism. A recent study published in the
Medical Journal of Australia shows it is a
significant contributor to lost productivity,
second only to mental health.
It can vary from sharp stings to prolonged
aches anywhere from the base of the neck to
the hips. Most commonly, it affects the lower
Estimates from a recent national health
survey show that 70-90 per cent of people
will suffer from lower back pain in some
form at some point in their lives. Risk factors
include obesity, poor muscle tone, incorrect
lifting techniques and sitting for prolonged
The curse of sitting
The spine has a natural S-shaped curve,
but when we sit at a desk for hours on end,
it slouches into a C shape that compresses
the spinal discs, which are fluid-filled sacks
between the vertebrae that act as shock
"After sitting for six to eight hours,
people's backs ache because they have
squeezed the fluid out of the discs, and that's
why we're often an inch shorter at the end
of the day," says Mark Alexander, a former
Olympic team physiotherapist and author of
the book Beating Back Pain.
Not only poor posture causes lower
back pain. Sitting for hours also causes our
muscles to switch off.
"Core muscles, such as the transverse
abdominis, obliques and pelvic floor
contribute to spinal stability," says
Alexander. "When we sit around all day,
they become floppy and their ability to
support the spine is reduced."
Nicole Press, technical specialist at
workplace injuries consultancy Konekt, says
back pain contributes to about 25 per cent
of workplace injuries. Konekt has analysed
113,000 workplace back pain cases in the
past six years and has found that 10-18 per
cent occur within sedentary roles.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
often cover parts of back pain treatment,
such as pain-management coaching. "While
EAP providers can help address pain
management, there's research that shows
diagnosis of a back injury is less relevant to
someone's recovery than factors such as how
supported they feel at work," explains Press.
Employers should consider how well
safety is promoted in the workplace.
"Posters around their workplace are fine,
but ultimately, embedding a culture of
maximising incidental activity is valuable
because the more physically active you can
be at work, the better off you will be." •••
Courtesy of OsteopathyAustralia
6 WAYS TO PROMOTE BACK HEALTH
1. Encourage regular movement
throughout the day
Physiotherapist Mark Alexander says this can be
as simple as giving water bottles to all employees.
"The more they drink, the more regularly they will
get up to go to the toilet." Also computer monitor
calendars alert employees to get up and move.
2. Build regular breaks into work practices
Nicole Press suggests introducing standing
meetings to encourage less sitting.
3. Inform and educate
Use every opportunity to promote back health.
Press suggests including practical information in
workplace induction packs for new employees.
4. Introduce sit-stand desks
Standing at a desk can promote good
posture and also engage muscles required
to support the back.
5. Provide back support equipment
Items such as bolsters or balls placed
behind the lower back prevent slouching
and promote good posture.
6. Provide lunchtime yoga
or pilates classes
Yoga and pilates target core muscle groups
required for supporting the back.
IS YOUR TEAM
SET UP TO WORK
Safeguard your team's
health, wellbeing and
safety when working from
home. Use AHRI's
'Working from home Workplace Health and
Safety (WHS) checklist' to organise an
ergonomic home workstation. Access
workplace health and safety resources via
AHRI: ASSIST. Free for AHRI members.
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