EVIDENCE THAT BACK BELTS REDUCE INJURY
SEEN IN LANDMARK STUDY
the largest study of its kind ever conducted, the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention's (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
found no evidence that back belts reduce back injury or back pain for retail
workers who lift or move merchandise, according to results published in the
December 6, 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
study, conducted over a two-year period, found no statistically significant
difference between the incidence rate of workers' compensation claims for
job-related back injuries among employees who reported using back belts usually
every day, and the incidence rate of such claims among employees who reported
never using back belts or using them no more than once or twice a month.
no statistically significant difference was found in comparing the incidence of
self-reported back pain among workers who reported using back belts every day,
with the incidence among workers who reported never using back belts or using
them no more than once or twice a month. Neither did the study find a
statistically significant difference between the rate of back injury claims
among employees in stores that required the use of back belts, and the rate of
such claims in stores where back belt use was voluntary.
Back belts, also called back supports or abdominal belts resemble corsets. In recent years, they have been widely used in numerous industries to prevent worker injury during lifting. There are more than 70 types of industrial back belts, including the lightweight, stretchable nylon style used by workers in this study. Approximately four million back belts were purchased for workplace use in 1995, the most recent year for which data were available.
results of the new study are consistent with NIOSH's previous finding, reported
in 1994, that there is insufficient scientific evidence that wearing back belts
protects workers from the risk of job-related back injury.
musculoskeletal disorders cost the economy an estimated $13 billion every year,
and a substantial proportion of these are back injuries," said CDC Director
Jeffrey P. Koplan, M.D., M.P.H. "By taking action to reduce exposures,
employers can go a long way toward keeping workers safe and reducing the costs
of work-related back injury."
study was the largest prospective study ever conducted on use of back belts.
From April 1996 to April 1998, NIOSH interviewed 9,377 employees at 160 newly
opened stores owned by a national retail chain. The employees were identified by
store management as involved in materials handling tasks (lifting or moving
merchandise). Through interviews, data was gathered on detailed information on
workers' back-belt wearing habits, work history, lifestyle habits, job
activities, demographic characteristics, and job satisfaction. The study
also examined workers' compensation claims for back injuries among employees at
the stores over the two-year period.
a prospective study, researchers identify a cohort or group of workers for
evaluation, and then collect current information on that group as the study
progresses. In this study, NIOSH determined workers' habits in wearing back
belts in advance of any injuries, and collected data as workers filed back
from this study included:
There was no statistically significant difference between the rates of back injuries among workers who wore back belts every day (3.38 cases per 100 full time equivalent workers or FTEs) and back injury rates among workers who never wore back belts or wore them no more than once or twice a month (2.76 cases per 100 FTEs).
was no statistically significant difference between the incidence of
self-reported back pain among workers who wore back belts usually every day
(17.1 percent) and the incidence of self-reported back pain among workers
who never wore back belts or wore them no more than once or twice a month
There was no statistically significant difference between the rate of back injury claims in stores requiring the use of back belts (2.98 cases per every 100 FTEs) and the rate in stores where back belt use was voluntary (3.08 cases per 100 FTEs).
A history of back injury was the strongest risk factor for predicting either a back-injury claim or reported back pain among employees, regardless of back-belt use. The rate of back injury among those with a previous history of back pain (5.14 cases per 100 FTEs) nearly twice as high as the rate among workers without a previous history of back pain (2.68 per 100 FTEs).
for employees in the most strenuous types of jobs, comparisons of back
injury claims and self-reported back pain failed to show any differences in
rates or incidence associated with back belt use.
appreciate the partnership offered by workers and management in helping us
conduct this important study," said NIOSH Acting Director Lawrence J. Fine,
M.D., D.P.H. "We look forward to working closely with industry and labor to
disseminate our findings as widely as possible."
Back injuries account for nearly 20% of all injuries and illnesses in the workplace and cost the nation an estimated 20 to 50 billion dollars per year. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) believes that the most effective way to prevent back injury is to implement an ergonomics program that focuses on redesigning the work environment and work tasks to reduce the hazards of lifting.
than relying on back belts, organizations should begin to implement a
comprehensive ergonomics program that strives to protect all workers. The most
effective way to prevent back injury is to redesign the work environment and
work tasks to reduce the hazards of lifting. Training in identifying lifting
hazards and using safe lifting techniques and methods should improve program
believes that the decision to use back belts should be a voluntary decision by
both employers and employees. The decision to wear a back belt is a personal
choice; however, NIOSH believes that workers and employers should have the best
available information to make that decision.
Back belt use should not be a mandatory job requirement. If your
workforce continues to wear back belts, you should remember the following
There is a lack of scientific evidence that back belts work.
Workers wearing back belts may attempt to lift more weight than they would have without a belt. A false sense of security may subject workers to greater risk of injury.
Workers and employers should redesign the work environment and work tasks to reduce lifting hazards, rather than rely solely on back belts to prevent injury.