General Motors, commonly known as GM is an auto manufacturing multinational company based in Detroit, Michigan. Before 2009, GM was the world’s largest automaker by vehicle unit sales. The company employs over 202, 000 people. GM places employee’s security at the pinnacle of the company’s goals because auto making is a labor-intensive exercise. Auto –making is a rigorous exercise that is monotonous and can be harmful to body organs such as the spinal cord and back area. As the safety manager of the GM Detroit plant, I am writing a report that explores the effectiveness of the back-belts as an instrument of preventing back injuries.
In the United States, back injuries account for almost twenty percent of all injuries and other work related illness. These injuries translate to between 20-50 billion dollars per year according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. The United States labor unions and employers have been engaged in finding a formidable ergonomic strategy to prevent prevalent back injuries amongst workers. General Motors has not left out in pursuit of a solution. While engaging in an honest discussion to find a solution, we have found ourselves in a hot debate of the usefulness of back-belts as a safety tool (Pete, 2010).
The application of back- belts as a back injury tool has been a subject of controversy amongst many scholars. In the year 200, the Journal of American Medical Association reported that back-belts were not effective in reducing back injuries at work. Even before this report, the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health had expressed doubts if back-belts were helpful in preventing back pains. In general, the back clash on the effectiveness of back-belts is spearheaded by the lack of scientific evidence on the usefulness of back-belts. Critics also argue that back-belts wearers may attempt to lift more weight than they can handle more than they would do if they had no belt. This false sense of security increases chances of getting hurt. Instead of using the back-belts, a redesign of the work environment and increased work safety education and efficient lifting methods can be helpful more than using the back-belts. Relying solely on the back-belts as the preventer of back injuries is perhaps an oversimplification of the issue at the stake (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1996).
Analysis of the key points
Mitchell (1994) conducted a retrospective survey of 1316 employees whose work involved lifting activities at the local Air Force base in California. In the study, various types of back-belts ranging from rigid to flexible were given to employees to test their effectiveness. The study concluded that back-belts are effective in preventing first time occurrence of low back pain, but they are not cost effective. A cost analysis found out that there is less intensive treatment of and lower cost per injury for workers injured with a belt than those without a belt. The conclusion of the study was that belted workers had a higher rate of limited activity days and higher rate of back injuries than the non-belted groups.
On their part, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health have argued that scholastic studies have failed to find a common ground on the usefulness of back-belts. The studies are inconclusive in their analysis and cannot be used to either refute or champion for the use of back-belts. However, the NIOSH argue that although back-belts are manufactured for reducing back injuries, there is no scientific evidence that demonstrate this promise. The stand recommends the use of back- belts for employees that have not been injured but not for the already injured or those recovering from back injuries.
Instead, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health argues for an intense ergonomic program as a method of reducing work injuries. This would include a program that improves workers conditions of work training workers on how to lift and making use of back-belts an option and not mandatory for the workers. The solid working from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is that companies should not rely on back-belts alone as the panacea to back injuries.
General Motors Stand
As any other party involved in this discourse, General Motors do not have a definitive answer on either the benefits or the harmful effects of wearing back-belts at work. However, the company involved in ensuring workers safety, we are engaged in the process of improving our workers safely, we have an intense training program that teaches workers how to lift and provides a friendly environment for work. In the case of using back-belts, we leave that to the judgment of the worker. However, we do not allow people with history of back pains to use back-belts.
General Motors is convinced that the primary strategy for the control of low back pain is through the ergonomic design of jobs. Back-belts and other designs are only secondary alternatives.
Pete, B. (2010). Latest Study lends no support for Back-Belts Southern Regional Safety Retrieved August 28th, 2012 http://www.apwu1201.org/new_page_47.htm
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (1996). Back-Belts: Do they Prevent Injury? Retrieved August 28th, 2012 http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/94-127/
Mitchell, L.V et all (1994). “Effectiveness of and cost-effectiveness of Employer issued Black-belt in areas of High Risk for Back Injury”. Journal of Medicine, Vol 36, No. 1. P[ 90-94.