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Why do construction workers receive so many back injuries?

If you work construction in New York, you likely can answer the above question in one word: lifting. The lifting your job requires you to do numerous times each day can and does take a toll on your back over time. The heavier the things you must lift, and the longer you work at your trade, the greater the toll.

What you may not realize, however, is that the stress and strain you constantly put on your back while at work can, and usually does, result in minor injuries. They may be so minor that you fail to recognize them as injuries and consequently fail to take the necessary time off to recover from them. As a result, eventually you can wind up with a chronic back pain condition or even a major workplace back injury.

Those most at risk

Regardless of the type of construction work you do, your job puts you at high risk for back injuries. You face even higher risk if you work as one of the following:

  • A roofer
  • A bricklayer or stonemason
  • A drywall installer
  • A jackhammer operator
  • A wall or floor tile installer

Incredible weight

Since a lot of the equipment and materials you lift every day may not be all that heavy, you likely have never thought about their cumulative weight over time. This bricklayer example provided by the Center for Construction Research and Training may therefore come as a shock to you. The example relies on three underlying assumptions: 1) you work as a bricklayer; 2) each brick you lay weighs 38 pounds; 3) you lift 200 bricks each work day.

While 38 pounds may not seem like much weight to lift, especially if you are a man, the resulting cumulative weight you lift is truly mind boggling as follows:

  • You lift 3.8 tons every work day.
  • You lift 19 tons every work week.
  • You lift 950 tons every year you work.

Given these enormous cumulative weights, you can easily see how your job puts you at risk for back injuries. There are, however, things you can do to minimize your injury risk. For instance, use a dolly, hoist or lift whenever possible if you must lift or more anything that weighs 50 pounds or more. Another alternative is to ask a co-worker to help you lift and move heavy items. If you must lift something from the floor or ground all by yourself, be sure to lift with your knees rather than relying on your back.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.

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  • Walter J. Roesch IV
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