In 2009 Australian OHS regulators made the definitive statement on the use of back belts. The guidance stated that:
- Back belts don’t reduce the forces on the spine
- Back belts don’t reduce the strain on muscles,tendons and ligaments
- Back belts do nothing to reduce fatigue or to increase the ability to lift
- Back belts are like holding your breath when lifting
- Back belts can increase blood pressure and breathing rate
- Back belts don’t reduce the chance of injury or reduce back pain.
This was a terrific example of evidence-based safety. But this does not mean that the use of back belts should not be reconsidered if there is new evidence or new back belt designs.
One SafetyAtWorkBlog reader has drawn our attention to a new type of back support, The Tolai All Purpose Back Support. In no way does this blog support this particular device. In fact, there is a strong argument against the widespread use of such devices as these may advocate the reliance on PPE (personal protective equipment) rather than a higher order of control, such as task redesign, which would result in a more sustainable solution.
However, there is a counter argument of the need to support innovation and the position of continuous improvement.
The manufacturers of this, relatively new, back support device may have customer testimonials and analysis by a physiotherapist but considerably more evidence is required before there is a strong case for the device’s widespread use.
The back belt guidance mentioned above does state that back belts may be useful after an injury but only when “prescribed by treating doctors or physiotherapists”. The Tolai device needs to show a level of evidence that would encourage the support of such devices by the medical fraternity and OHS regulators. To be considered an acceptable injury control option there needs to be broad medical support for the use of these devices and the Australian OHS regulators would need to acknowledge the benefits of such devices. A lot of work needs to be undertaken by the manufacturers to achieve this acceptance but it may be worthwhile to pursue.