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About Back Impairment
Back injuries account for many of the musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. The major symptom of most back impairments is back pain, which can be localized or widespread radiating from a central point in the back. If ligaments and muscles are weak then discs in the lower back can become weakened. With excessive lifting, or a sudden fall, a disc can rupture. With years of back abuse, or with aging, the discs may simply wear out and a person may live with chronic pain for several years. However, back pain caused by a muscle strain or a ligament sprain will normally heal within a short time and may never cause further problems. Poor physical condition, poor posture, lack of exercise, and excessive body weight contribute to the number and severity of sprains and strains. Degeneration of the spine, due to aging, is also a major contributor to back pain.
Back Impairment and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Back Impairment
People with back impairments may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with back impairments will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
A volunteer at a food bank had a lifting restriction from a back condition and had trouble moving heavy donation deliveries to the sorting area.
A supply of small containers was provided so he could divide the deliveries into smaller amounts for sorting.
A meat processor with a back impairment had difficulty lifting materials from a storage area to his work area.
The inspector was accommodated with a cart and lifts.
A chemical process plant worker was limited in his ability to turn large wheel valves due to a back injury.
The worker was accommodated with a specialty tool designed to decrease torque on wheel valve handles.
A systems administrator with a back impairment is required to move, lift, and carry computers throughout the office.
The person was accommodated with a compact, adjustable height lifting device with straps to secure the load.
A hotel manager with a back condition was having problems working full days.
She experienced pain after being on her feet for long periods of time. As a reasonable accommodation, the agency provided a flexible schedule. The employer reported the accommodation was extremely effective, eliminating the need of training someone else to do the job and improving morale.
A mechanic with a bending restriction due to a low back impairment has problems accessing the engine compartment and low task areas of vehicles.
The mechanic was accommodated with a tire lift, a mechanic's low task chair, and a specialty creeper designed to support the body while accessing engine compartments.
A clerical worker with scoliosis has sitting and standing restrictions.
Because the worker is required to work at a desk a majority of the time, the worker was accommodated with an ergonomic workstation evaluation, ergonomic chair, and a sit/stand computer workstation.
A grocery check-out person had a standing restriction due to a back injury.
He was accommodated with a sit/lean stool and anti-fatigue mats.
A customer service agent for an insurance company was pregnant and experiencing significant leg and back pain when sitting for long periods of time.
She also needed to use the restroom frequently. The employer provided an adjustable workstation to enable the employee to alternate between sitting and standing positions. The employer also allowed her to take more frequent rest breaks by dividing her existing thirty-minutes of break time into several smaller increments of time so she could use the restroom as-needed.
JAN Publications & Articles Regarding Back Impairment
Accommodation and Compliance Series
Consultants' Corner Articles
- A Support Person as an Accommodation
- Accommodations for Housekeeping/Janitorial Workers with Industrial Injuries
- Accommodations Related to Commuting To and From Work
- Best Practices for Addressing Requests for Ergonomic Chairs
- Confidentiality of Medical Information under the ADA
- Hidden Disabilities: Confidentiality and Travel
- No Blog Posts available for Back Impairment