One in five workers in British Columbia have back problems, and it accounts for more days lost than any other type of injury, according to WorkSafeBC.
Between 2002 and 2012, back strain injury affected between 12,000 and 15,000 workers in B.C. annually — totalling more than 140,000 claims. In the same time period, back strain injury also accounted for three deaths, which arose from medical complications from the treatment of the original injury.
And the injury numbers aren’t tailing off. The agency said it was “cause for concern” that there had only been slight declines in the proportion of work days lost and claims cost related to back injuries between 2003 and 2012.
The agency also looked back at numbers over the last 30 years and found, overall, back injuries have remained pretty consistent in relation to other injuries — between 1980 and 2012, 22 per cent to 26 per cent of all time-loss injuries in B.C. were related to backs.
Women feeling the pain
While the majority of back strain injuries were reported by men, women were actually more likely to have a back injury.
The number of women filing back strain injury claims jumped notably in the last three decades. In 1980, 15 per cent of all claims were filed by women. By 2012, that number had swollen to 40 per cent.
WorkSafeBC speculated the cause could be that “the characteristics of the jobs men and women are undertaking have become more similar over time.”
It also pointed out that the increase in injury reflects the growing participation of women in the labour force and the expansion of WCB coverage for the province’s service-producing sector.
The aging workforce
Age also plays a role in back strain. Injuries peak in workers age 35 to 44 as a percentage of all claims, and then decline as workers age.
Between 2003 and 2012, one-quarter (26 per cent) of claims sustained by workers between ages 35 and 44 were from back strain.
By comparison, back strain injury accounted for 19 per cent of total injuries for workers aged 15 to 24, and 11 per cent for those aged 65 and older.
What makes it hurt?
Overexertion is the most common cause for back strain injury, accounting for between 67 and 70 per cent of back strain injury claims between 2003 and 2012.
The second largest contributor was falls (11 per cent to 12 per cent).
After the back, the most common body parts injured are fingers and legs.