Guide written by:
Albert, Manager of a gardening service, Leicester
Adopting safe working postures and actions is essential to protect your joints, prevent injury and trauma and remain free of chronic back pain. Carrying heavy loads, repetitive actions and protracted periods of staying upright or sitting are occupational hazards that need to be managed.
- Safe actions and postures
- Protracted sitting posture
- Protracted standing posture
- Lifting and depositing
Safe actions and postures: a universal health issue
Adopting safe postures and actions in your work and daily life is a public health issue that concerns us all. Back pain is a big health problem in our society, taking an ever-increasing toll in terms of care costs and absence from work.
Reducing the risk of injuries from work and daily living is a priority for everyone. The means of achieving this are simple and effective. There are certain measures to adopt on a day-to-day basis, but it's also important to think before carrying out certain tasks.
Back pain, and that's not all…
The phrase 'back pain' is used to mean a wide range of different problems. The most common complaint is lumbago, located at the base of the back. However, there are many other forms of pain that can affect the dorsal and cervical vertebrae. The general term for these types of problems is musculoskeletal pain (MSP). The main reason they occur is the constant repetitive use of the same muscles and joints at work or in everyday life, aggravated by unsafe techniques and poor posture.
Musculoskeletal complaints can present in various ways: after an uncomfortable movement, a car trip, a period of sitting or standing in a poor posture, or when lifting a weight. It's worth noting that the majority of instances of back pain can be avoided.
A few examples of high-risk situations in at home and at work: a protracted sitting or upright position; lifting an object off the ground; lifting heavy weights.
Protracted sitting posture
When you're sat down, in the office for example, don't assume you're in a safe position– that's a surefire way of ending up with a back problem! On the contrary, the back is under considerable strain in this situation; in fact more than when standing up.
The back is articulated by of a series of discs situated between vertebrae, If you 'relax' by leaning forwards, the base of the back is subjected to excessive pressure which, over time, leads to the crushing of the lumbar discs.
A good sitting posture involves keeping the back straight, thereby activating the abdominal and dorsal muscles. This does of course result in quicker muscle fatigue, but takes the strain off your back. If you don't adopt this posture, you put all the weight on discs and ligaments instead – with damaging long-term consequences.
To reduce muscle fatigue, it's a good idea to use specially adapted office chairs. It's best to use one with back and arm rests. It's important to place the base of the back firmly against the back rest. The arm rests should be used simultaneously for both arms, in such a way as to balance the load supported by the back.
You can also use a chair with knee rests. These have the advantage of being ergonomic, i.e. their form promotes the right kind of posture. Caution: it's still important to keep your back straight. The disadvantage of this type of chair is that it causes more rapid muscle fatigue due to the lack of back and arm support.
Protracted standing posture
When carrying out upright tasks in a fixed location, it's essential to keep a straight back and avoid letting it tilt forwards or sideways. This is an effective way of keeping balance and a good weight distribution. The legs should be planted slightly apart and maintain balance; avoid leaning on one leg.
If you have to remain standing for a long period of time, it's a good idea to have a footrest, provided you don't let your back tilt forwards or sideways or place more weight on one leg than the other for long periods. You can also get some very effective specialized equipment such as sitting / standing stools.
For tasks that require repeated bending over from a standing position, for example when cutting wood, you need to find the best way to take the strain off your back. The most effective way is to change the height you're working at so as to avoid bending too far forwards. Use your arms or hands to find support, or even a footstool.
Note that twisting is always to be avoided.
Sitting / standing stools
Lifting and depositing objects
When lifting a light object you should either bend both knees or put one knee down and bend over with a straight back. Forwards and rotating movements are driven by the action of the legs. When turning, the legs lead the rest of the body, with the back remaining straight and avoiding any twisting movements.
Before lifting a weight, you should think about the best way to approach it. It may be more or less regular in shape, and might not present any obvious handholds. With these considerations in mind, adopt the best possible position to protect your back.
In all cases, you should approach the object in question as closely as possible. Then part and bend your legs to put yourself on the right level to grab hold. If there's no obvious handhold, tilt it to one side and then lift it by the bottom, making sure the weight is as balanced as possible between one side and the other.
Once you've got hold of the object, move to an upright position while keeping the back straight. The object should stay as close to the body as possible. Use your legs to support the weight and drive the movement. If you need to turn to put the object down, turn your legs while keeping the body rigid and avoid twisting your back.
When putting down a heavy object, once again bend your legs and keep your back straight. Once you've deposited the load, stand up slowly to gradually return the back to its normal position.
Learn more about outdoor work...
To find out more about outdoor work, follow our editors' advice and check out their other guides:
How to choose your footstool or stepladder?
How to cut firewood?
How to choose your compost?
How to maintain your lawn?
How to make compost?
How to choose your fertilizer?
How to lime your turf?
How to choose your scarifier?
How to sow a lawn?How to choose your sprayer?How to choose your hedge trimmer?How to choose your weedkiller?How to choose your pond pump?How to water your lawn?How to choose your watering timer?How to choose your planters?When to plant a tree?How to choose your drip-by-drip irrigation system?How to arrange and decorate your garden?When to sown your lawn?How to choose your watering attachments?How to choose your tools to work soil?When to trim your hedges?
Guide written by:
Albert, Manager of a gardening service, Leicester, 49 guides
For several years I have been running a garden service with a clientele of both individuals and companies. I manage a team of gardeners and ensure the creation and maintenance of green spaces. At the same time, I bring my expertise to my clients in terms of the maintenance and improvement of their gardens. In fact, as a trainee and working in the hospitality industry at the beginning of my career, I focused on landscaping in a local community where I acquired solid technical skills through in-house training and the follow-up of major projects in a rapidly changing town. On a personal level, I am equally oriented towards the art of gardening. With my wife, I created our garden from start to finish and I maintain it carefully, the same goes for the vegetable garden. As for DIYing, it’s not to be outdone. Yes, gardening is also tinkering: pergola, hut, pavement, fence, and so on...There is always something to do in a garden. After working well together, my wife and I are proud of the result and delighted to be able to take full advantage of a friendly and warm environment. So, let us give you advice and help you in your choice of tools, maintenance, or improvement of your garden, nothing could be simpler.