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Back Brace Study
Workers who wear back supports can reduce the number of low-back
injuries by about one-third, according to findings from the
largest-ever study of the increasingly popular -- yet unproven --
Researchers from the UCLA School of Public Health studied the
workplace injury history of 36,000 workers of The Home Depot, a
national home center chain, over a six-year period and found that
low-back injuries fell by about one-third after the company imposed a
consistent policy on back support use.
The study, scheduled to be published in the November edition of
the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health,
is the largest study thus far to examine the effectiveness of back
supports. No funding from manufacturers of back supports was used for
"We found compelling evidence that back supports can play an
important role in helping to reduce back injuries among workers who
do a lot of lifting," said Jess Kraus, an epidemiologist and director
of the UCLA-based Southern California Injury Prevention Research
Center. "Along with worker training and proper workplace ergonomic
design, back supports can be part of an overall back injury
More than one million workers suffer back injuries each year,
accounting for one out of every five workplace injuries and
illnesses. Moreover, back injuries account for one-fourth of all
workers compensation claims, costing businesses billions of dollars
Back supports have become standard issue for a variety of workers
in the past several years, despite little scientific inquiry into
whether the devices help prevent injuries.
Several smaller studies have found uncertain results about the
effectiveness of back supports. The National Institute of
Occupational Safety and Health reviewed the scientific findings and
issued a report in 1994 that concluded the benefit of the back
supports remained unproven and did not recommend that they be used by
The UCLA researchers examined the effectiveness of back supports
by analyzing worker injury data collected by the home improvement
retailer Home Depot on 36,000 people who worked at its 77 California
stores from the start of 1989 to the end of 1994. The company imposed
a consistent back support use policy that was phased in between 1990
Analyzing injury reports and other worker information, UCLA
researchers found that Home Depot workers sustained about 31 back
injuries per 1 million work hours without the supports, compared with
about 20 injuries per 1 million work hours after a consistent back
support use policy was imposed.
"I went into the study very skeptical about claims that these back
supports could help reduce back injuries," Kraus said. "I suspected
we would not find any positive effect, so I was very much surprised
by our findings."
The benefits of using the back supports were seen in men and women
workers, in young and older workers, and among workers engaged in low
and high levels of lifting, according to the UCLA researchers.
The biggest benefit was seen among the groups of workers at
highest risk of back injury -- men who were 25 and younger or over
age 55, had worked for the company for one to two years, and had jobs
that required the highest intensity of lifting.
Home Depot employees logged more than 100 million work hours
during the study period. Other workplace training and safety measures
adopted by Home Depot during the study period were taken into account
"People need to be careful about generalizing these findings to
workers who are not engaged in material handling jobs," Kraus said.
"There needs to be further research examining occupations such as
construction, agriculture and mining to see if back supports prevent
injuries to those workers."
The Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center is one
of 10 injury prevention research centers sponsored nationally by the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The center
emphasizes study of injuries among high-risk groups, ethnic/racial
minorities and other traditionally underserved populations.
Funding for the back support study was provided by the Southern
California Injury Prevention Research Center, the UCLA Center for
Occupational and Environmental Health, the California State
Department of Industrial Relations and the 3-E Company, a San
Diego-based industrial safety consulting firm. Other authors of the
study are Kathryn A. Brown, David L. McArthur, Corinne Peek-Asa and
Lei Zhou, all of UCLA, and Lupe Samaniego and Chris Kraus of the 3-E
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