Back pain

As an employer, you must protect workers from the risks of developing back pain caused by work. There are things that both you and your workers can do to manage back pain in the workplace, for example there is advice on managing manual handling tasks.

Protect your workers

You must:

  • avoid work activities that can cause back pain, where reasonably practicable
  • where the activity can't be avoided, assess it to see what you can do to reduce the risk of back pain
  • apply the control measures you have identified and monitor and review them to make sure they are working
  • consult your workers and, if they have health and safety concerns, do something about them

Causes of back pain at work

Some work tasks can cause back pain or make existing pain worse:

  • lifting heavy or bulky loads
  • carrying loads awkwardly, possibly one-handed
  • pushing, pulling or dragging heavy loads
  • manual handling in awkward places, such as during delivery work
  • repetitive tasks, such as packing products
  • bending, crouching or stooping
  • stretching, twisting and reaching
  • being in one position for a long time
  • working beyond your capability or when physically overtired
  • working with display screen equipment (with poor posture)
  • driving long distances or over rough ground, especially if the seat is not, or cannot be, properly adjusted or operating heavy equipment (for example excavators)

A major reason for developing back pain is having had a previous episode, particularly if it was recent. How the work is organised (for example, high workloads, tight deadlines, lack of control of the work and working methods) can also have an impact.

Manage the risk of back pain

You can reduce the risk of back pain in your workplace:

  • identify what activities can cause back pain and decide whether they can be avoided or changed
  • ask your workers for input – they have first-hand knowledge of the work and can suggest changes
  • think about how you can make jobs physically easier, for example, by moving loads on wheels
  • make sure controls, for example lifting aids, are available, used and maintained
  • look for signs of back pain among your workers, such as a reluctance to do a particular task, which may suggest your controls are not working
  • encourage them to report problems early to you or their worker representative so they get the right help

People with back pain usually recover completely if the problem is recognised early and treated appropriately.

The NHS has evidence-based advice about preventing back pain at work and there is other useful advice for workers.

If workers already have back pain, tell them about the NHS advice on treating back pain and when back pain can be a sign of something more serious.

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Updated 2024-02-09