Alternative methods for assessing exposure to occupational risk factors for back injury

Back strain is the leading cause of injury among Canadian workers. From 1997 to 2001, the Workers’ Compensation Board of BC received more than 90,000 back strain claims and paid out more than $661 million in compensation. Major occupational risks for back injury include heavy lifting and awkward postures. Rahul Chhokar is comparing different methods for assessing exposure to these risks in five BC industries that account for more than 25 per cent of back claims: forestry, wood and paper products, construction, transportation and warehousing. Direct measurement systems are costly and not always practical to use, but are generally considered the most precise. Rahul is studying whether other, less expensive approaches also provide reliable data on exposure to occupational risks. These include interviewing workers, asking them to fill out questionnaires, and observing workers at job sites. If accurate, these methods could provide a more cost-effective way of identifying potentially harmful work environments and reducing the risk of injury.