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5 Reasons We’re Still Spending $45bn A Year On Back Injuries

5 Reasons We’re Still Spending $45bn A Year On Back Injuries

According to OSHA, “The direct costs attributable to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) total $15 to $18 billion per year, with indirect costs (such as resulting management costs or the cost of production losses) increasing the costs to employers to more than $45 billion.

In an ever-changing world of technological advancement many manufacturers still rely on their workers’ muscle power to move things around. The time travelling factory worker from the 1950’s would certainly struggle to comprehend the ways in which connectivity and robotics have transformed the modern factory environment. He would however, be able to give a knowing nod of recognition to the employee still huffing, puffing and straining every sinew to push a stubborn cart from one place to another… “some things don’t change” he’d remark with a wry smile.

So, why do we still push and pull things around?

“It’s the way we’ve always done it” is the well worn explanation but, in an age where things like robotic exoskeletons exist, this excuse doesn’t hold water. In reality, the reasons and explanations are varied but consistent across almost every industry:

#1 – We tried a machine before and it didn’t work

In these instances, further investigation usually reveals a machine purchase that was made by prioritizing cost over performance with little or no input from the people who would actually use it. The result? A dusty piece of equipment parked in the corner of the factory which managers can point to as evidence that they tried and failed. In short, they were willing, but the market failed to provide a decent solution. The remedy? Go find a better supplier.

#2 – The cost of electric tugs is too high

I can’t afford to buy one for everybody” – the combined cost of sickness related absence, litigation and compensation claims are nearly always greater than the cost of a machine. Factor in the improved morale of workers who don’t fear getting injured at work and their increased productivity because they fatigue more slowly and the machine option starts to look cheap.

#3 – It’s quicker to move it by hand

This may be true but it doesn’t make it right. As anyone who’s suffered with a bad back knows, your back feels fine until it doesn’t and then it really hurts. The ergonomics professional would point out that back injuries are often cumulative. Years of poor practice will build up until your back says….’enough!’

#4 – Specifying engineers and equipment manufacturers who don’t think about practicalities

In industries like pharmaceutical manufacturing, it’s common to discover that the specifying engineer was understandably thinking first and foremost about the primary function of the equipment at the cost of considering how it would be moved around. The result? Steel tanks designed to hold 550 gallons of liquid fitted with wheels and handles! That’s over 6,000lbs of weight that the engineer and tank manufacturer thought would be pushed and pulled by manpower alone.

#5 – Lack of joined up thinking between buyers, engineering and safety departments

When inter departmental objectives aren’t aligned the result for moving and handling equipment is often either complete stasis or the company buys a solution that doesn’t ultimately work (as described above). If it’s a company safety objective to reduce manual handling injuries, then it follows that the engineering and buying teams should make decisions that don’t frustrate that objective. Making sure that new carts are suitable for being towed and that they feature a hitch point would save money and help meet the company’s safety objectives.


It’s for these reasons and many others that some manufacturers still rely on manpower to keep things moving. Whatever the explanation, it’s clear that no employee comes to work wanting to get a bad back. If people are presented with a decent mechanical alternative that’s both simple and effective, most would willingly use it.

To be clear, not everything warrants the use of a mechanical aid. Simple ergonomic design tweaks coupled with decent caster wheels, is enough in many cases to take the strain out of moving some wheeled loads. But, when weight, distance and repetition enter the equation then employees need the help of a machine.

The market for such machines has never been so buoyant. All over the world, innovative engineering firms are striving to develop materials handling solutions that help companies eliminate the need to manually push and pull goods around. So, there’s no excuse for those businesses who still rely on their workers’ muscle power to move heavy wheeled loads.

In the interests of health and well-being, that is a method that can and should be consigned to the history books. So, if you’re still asking staff to push and pull things around by hand, then stop. There is a better way.

Author: Hugh Freer ([email protected])

President of MasterMover Inc

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