An In-Depth Look at Lower Back Pain from Driving a Forklift
(Updated March 2021)
Driving a forklift may seem like a simple job to those who’ve never done it. But, there is more than meets the eye required to safely and effectively operate a forklift. If a forklift operator is not careful, there is a risk that he or she may experience forklift back pain.
Can Driving a Forklift Cause Back Pain?
Driving a forklift won’t cause back pain for every operator, every time. Yet, how a forklift operator uses a lift can impact their health and wellbeing.
Teaching workers how to properly operate a forklift is crucial. Forklift safety training enables workers to learn how to safely use a lift without endangering themselves or others. It can also help forklift operators minimize the risk of back pain and other physical problems.
Is Lower Back Pain from Driving a Forklift Common?
Lower back pain from driving forklifts presents a major challenge for forklift operators around the globe — and it has since their inception.
Forklifts have been around since the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until 1987 that the first study was conducted to examine the relationship between forklift back pain and spinal support. In the study, researchers concluded that lower back pain and soreness are common ailments among forklift drivers.
Many of your forklift drivers may already suffer from or will face chronic lower back pain at some point in their careers. Yet, there is plenty that you can do to help your workers minimize the short- and long-term risks of back pain from driving forklifts. In fact, if you understand some of the reasons why forklift back pain occurs, you may be better equipped than ever before to prevent this issue from becoming a significant problem across your team of forklift operators.
What Causes Lower Back Pain from Driving a Forklift?
According to a National Institute of Biotechnology Information (NIBI) study, up to 95% of forklift drivers experience lower back pain. In the study, many drivers also reported neck pain. Ultimately, NIBI’s findings suggest that forklift back pain is real, and forklift operators are at an increased risk of suffering from back and neck pain issues.
A separate study looked into why forklift operators suffer back pain revealed that there are two main causes for this issue:
1. Poor Posture
Operating a forklift involves twisting, turning, bending, and leaning. These and similar movements can compress the spine and may damage the lower back when a driver isn’t properly seated in a lift. If these movements are repeated on a daily basis, they can put undue stress on the lower back.
2. Constant Vibration
Forklifts vibrate heavily when their engines are running. Although a driver’s area supports the back, being exposed to constant vibration day in and day out is harmful to the spine and can cause lower back pain for forklift operators.
Vibration also affects a driver’s posture. Over time, daily vibration can take a toll on a driver’s lower back.
3. Long Work Shifts
Long shifts can contribute to back pain from driving forklifts as well. Sitting for hours at a time in a cramped cab can strain the neck and lower back. Thus, working long shifts increases the chances that your operators will suffer from lower back pain. They can increase the risk of operator fatigue that leads to forklift accidents, too.
Help Your Workers Stand Up to Forklift Back Pain
Forklift operators who suffer from back pain must realize and accept that this issue won’t go away on its own. New habits, however, can help forklift operators alleviate lower back pain.
There are many things you can do to help your workers minimize back pain when operating a forklift. These include:
1. Promote Good Posture
Operators need to maintain a good posture while driving, which means operating the equipment while sitting up straight instead of slouching. Using a lower back support belt can help operators maintain good posture. To help keep their spine properly aligned, avoid slumping forward when reaching for a lift’s controls and don’t carry a wallet or mobile phone in a rear pocket. For drivers who are prone to slouching when seated, using a stand-up forklift might help. Conversely, for operators who suffer from back pain caused by prolonged standing, you can provide them with ergonomically designed forklift seats.
2. Address Vibrations
Forklift back pain from vibration is more difficult to counter, since all forklifts vibrate to some extent. There are some things that can be done to minimize the impact of vibration, such as driving at lower speeds and avoiding uneven surfaces. Using an air suspension seat will decrease the transfer of vibration from a truck to an operator’s body and spine as well.
3. Manage Forklift Operators’ Work Hours
Long hours in a driver’s seat places undue stress on the spine, so it’s important that operators take breaks at regular intervals. Rather than sitting down during breaks, operators should walk around to circulate blood throughout the body. Stretching the neck and shoulder muscles can also help reduce back pain from driving forklifts. All stretching should be slow and gentle, and simple stretching exercises can be done at work.
When an operator returns to a truck following a break, settling comfortably into the driver’s seat before resuming work can also help minimize the risk of neck and back pain. Operators should be able to reach the steering wheel, pedals, and controls without straining the neck and back. Proper use of a lift’s backrest provides a valuable back support tool.
4. Encourage Workers to Stretch
Stretching exercises can help forklift operators maintain flexibility. They can be used at different times during the work day and help workers guard against back pain, cramping, fatigue, and other problems.
Along with the back, other areas of the body that forklift operators should stretch regularly include:
You can set up signs to promote stretching exercises at worksites. Or, you can even schedule times throughout the day in which workers come together to stretch.
Other Forklift Health Risks
Back pain can be problematic for forklift operators, but other health issues can also arise. These issues include:
- Shoulder pain
- Knee pain
- Neck stiffness (whiplash)
Any of these issues can make it difficult for a forklift operator to work safely. At the first sign of a health problem, an employer must address the issue promptly and effectively.
What to Do If Forklift Operators Report Back or Neck Pain or Other Health Problems
When it comes to the health and wellbeing of your forklift operators, there is no need to leave anything to chance. If a forklift operator comes forward with concerns about back or neck pain, encourage the worker to seek medical attention. That way, the operator can get the medical help necessary to prevent this pain from becoming a lingering issue.
Remember, you are responsible for providing forklift operators with safe work environments. You are also required to follow OSHA mandates and ensure forklift operators receive personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to safely perform everyday work tasks. Therefore, if a forklift operator is worried about back or neck pain, you must take the issue seriously. In doing so, you can uncover the best ways to keep forklift operators safe and help them guard against long-lasting back or neck pain.
Let Your Forklift Operators Participate in a Safety Training Program
A safety training program can go a long way toward developing a safe work environment for forklift operators. With FLC, your forklift operators can participate in a safety training course that teaches them about all aspects of forklift safety, including back or neck pain that may occur from using a lift. To learn more about our forklift certification training program, please contact us online or call us today at (888) 278-8896.