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Back Belts in Manual Materials Handling

  • Issued: November 15, 2012
  • Content last reviewed: November 2012

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE SEE FULL DISCLAIMER

Introduction

The Ministry of Labour has received inquiries about the use of weightlifting or lumbar support belts or "back belts" in the workplace. Specifically, the ministry is often asked whether back belts will reduce the risk of low back injuries in jobs which involve the manual lifting and moving of materials.

These belts should not generally be used as a means of preventing back injuries. There is no evidence they reduce the load on the back in materials handling work and the ministry does not recommend back belts as personal protective equipment for workers engaged in manual materials handling. The ministry's focus is on prevention of injury so this guideline does not address the use of back belts as medical treatment for rehabilitation of back injury or back pain.

In addition, workers who wear back belts may experience the following adverse health consequences:

  • Wearing back belts may increase intra-abdominal pressure which can cause an increase in cardiovascular stress. The wearing of belts by people with cardiovascular disease is not advised. Moreover, the presence of cardiovascular disease is not always apparent.
  • Long-term, habitual use of the belts may cause a loss of strength in the abdominal muscles. In turn, this may lead to back injuries when the person is not wearing the belt. Some evidence suggests that people who do not wear a back belt after a period of wearing one are at greater risk of injury.
  • Back belts may give wearers a false sense of security, with the result that they may injure themselves by handling loads beyond their physical capabilities.
  • Wearers of some types of back belts have complained of excessive heat under the belt or pressure and pinching on the ribs.

However, there is solid evidence that job redesign – workplace changes based on ergonomics principles – does reduce the load on the back and help prevent back injuries.

Guidelines

The weight of the evidence on back belts suggests they do not offer benefits in reducing occupational injury rates or absenteeism. Back belts are not generally considered to be personal protective equipment. The use of back belts will not prevent back injuries.

Prevention of back injuries can best be accomplished by following accepted ergonomic principles in designing jobs, tools and work environments. An important adjunct to good ergonomic design is education in wellness and back care for both workers and managers.

For more information on musculoskeletal disorders and ergonomics, please visit the ministry website: Ontario.ca/msd.

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