Belts Don’t Prevent Back Injury Claims, Study Finds
Workers who regularly wore back belts were as likely to report lower back pain and to submit workers' compensation claims as those who did not use the belts, suggesting that the devices are ineffective at preventing injuries, according to a study in today's Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studied 9,377 workers at 160 Wal-Mart stores whose jobs included lifting. Eighty-nine of those stores had policies requiring the use of back belts; the remaining 71 stores made such use optional (Fackelmann, USA Today, 12/6). Workers were asked about their belt-wearing habits and incidence of back pain at the beginning of the study and six months afterward; researchers also examined all workers' compensation claims involving back injuries. They concluded that there was no statistical difference between those who wore the belts and those who did not in the number of back pain reports or claims filed. "What's more, back belts appeared useless at preventing injury," the Los Angeles Times reports.
Lower back pain is the second-most common cause of physician visits and an "enormously expensive problem," costing an estimated $8.8 billion in workers' compensation claims in 1995. Dr. James Weinstein, professor of surgery and community and family medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, said, "It's not really surprising that (back belts) didn't make a difference," adding, "The pressure makes you feel better.... But that probably doesn't prevent you getting injured." But researchers at UCLA -- who found in a separate 1996 study of 36,000 Home Depot workers that belts could reduce back injuries by about one-third --"questioned" the new findings and said the NIOSH study had some problems, such as relying on workers to "self-report" back pain, rather than using physician reports (Mestel, Los Angeles Times, 12/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.