BELOW THE BELT: BACK BELT BUNKUM
Back injuries are the most common of workplace injuries. In 1992, of the 653,00 back injuries reported, 400,000 resulted from lifting too much. The use of Back belts in the workplace to prevent back injuries has become increasingly popular. However, the effectiveness of these back belts in preventing injury is doubtful.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the research arm of OSHA, has reviewed scientific studies of back belts and has concluded that there is no evidence that they reduce injuries. Claims by back belt marketers that they reduce internal forces on the spine, stiffen the spine, and reduce bending motions are unsubstantiated. Unfortunately, the reality is workers tend to believe that back belts protect them and put themselves at greater risk, especially if they lift more weight than they normally would without the back belt. This gives people a false sense of security.
Though the purveyers of back belts would like to have you think so, back belts are not the solution to back injuries in the workplace. The best way to prevent back injuries is to stay in good physical condition and keep your back and stomach muscles strong by exercising them. If heavy lifting cannot be avoided, lift with your legs while keeping your back straight, and avoid any twisting motions in the process.
Walsh, James. True Odds: How Risk Affects Your Everyday Life. 1996.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Back Belts: Do they Prevent Injury? 1994.