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Study Shows a Third of Work-Related Disability Comes from Low Back Pain (LBP)

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Sep 9, 2014 10:09:00 AM

Work Related Disability Comes from Low Back Pain (LBP)According to the Council for Disability Awareness, more than 25 percent of today's 20 year-olds will develop some type of disability before they retire. The overall toll on the individual, the company and the government is substantial. For this reason, legislation and guidelines have been issued and tweaked throughout the decades. The cause and severity of disabilities can vary greatly. However, a recent study sheds light on one major culprit, Low Back Pain (LBP). 

LPB (previously referred to as lumbago) is a common disorder involving the muscles and bones of the back. It affects about 40% of people at some point in their lives and is described by medical professionals as lower back pain caused by any of a number of underlying conditions. The pain may be mild or severe, acute or chronic, confined to the lower back or radiating into the buttocks and upper thighs. It may be caused by a weak or strained back muscle, torn ligaments, a herniated disk, compression of the sciatic nerve (sciatica), degenerative disease of the vertebrae (spondylosis), curvature of the spine (scoliosis), or loss of bone.

A Third of Work-Related Disability

The 2010 study was part of the Global Burden of Disease aimed to quantify the burden arising from LBP due to occupational exposure to ergonomic risk factors.

The study, entitled The Global Burden of Occupational Related Low Back Pain, found that one-third of work-related disability comes from LBP. That study collected information from 187 countries for the years 1990, 2005 and 2010. The highest risk jobs were those that involved lifting, forceful movement, awkward positions and vibration. Other findings include:

  • Agriculture is the highest risk sector.
  • Employees between 35 and 55 are at the greatest risk.
  • In 2010, there were nearly 22 million DALYs worldwide attributed to LBP (DALY stands for disability adjusted life years and is calculated based on the years of life lost because of premature death and the years of life living with a disability.)
  • 13.5 million DALYs were attributed to men and 8.3 million to women. 

Perform a Risk Assessment

NIOSH has very specific parameters for employer to prevent occupational LBP. One the most important first steps is to is to perform a risk assessment—to carefully analyze the potential hazards that could cause LBP. The next step is to determine necessary preventive measures. For example, back injury risk can be greatly reduced by proper training, introducing lifting equipment or simply changing the work process.


Data from scientific studies of primary and secondary interventions indicate LBP can be reduced by:

  • Engineering controls (e.g., ergonomic workplace redesign)
  • Administrative controls (specifically, adjusting work schedules and workloads)
  • Programs designed to modify individual factors, such as employee exercise
  • Combinations of these approaches

Emilcott has been assisting our clients with all types of hazard assessments to reduce workplace injuries and illness for over 25 years. Contact one of our certified professionals to find out more.


Topics: Low Back Pain (LBP), Third of Work-Related Disability, workplace injuries and illness

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