Promoting back safety—one company's approach

October 9, 2003
By: Kelly Langdon

Over the years, our midsize company, Aeroglide Corp., has used numerous methods to battle back injuries. We have tracked injuries in five-year increments and developed battle plans based on the trends we've observed.

Dealing with Injuries

We noticed that very few of the injuries were serious strains. In most of the serious strain cases, we quickly identified the root causes and dealt with the problem. Many times the solution was a relatively simple, quick fix, such as buying a piece of equipment to help the individual lift or manipulate heavy cumbersome objects.

A vast majority of the back injuries were minor back strains or sprains. We observed many different behaviors, actions, and trends that ultimately led to these injuries. Among the actions we've taken to battle the minor strain monster are the following:

  1. Each year we dedicate one month specifically to back safety. Each Monday morning during that month, back safety is discussed in meetings, and handouts are given to the employees. These handouts feature improved diet methods, stretching exercises, and general back wellness information.
  2. We bring in a doctor each year to discuss proper lifting techniques. These techniques are further explained through literature and hands-on exercises. The doctor also discusses diet and other alternatives for preventative back care.
  3. We have a root cause analysis procedure in place to document injuries. Each injury is reviewed by the Safety Committee, which meets monthly, to determine the root cause and to discuss future prevention.
  4. We have joined arms with our workers' compensation carrier to embrace a "Zero Accident Culture."

While each of these steps were and are effective, minor back injuries continued to occur. It seemed that these types of injuries were destined to be thorns in our flesh. We decided as a company to try an out-of-the-box effort to reduce back injuries.

A Weighty Effort

A doctor who participated in our back safety program had made a couple of comments that stayed with us. He noted that many times, there is a direct relation between back injury and being overweight. He also stated that being even slightly overweight increases the chances of back strain. His comments led to a new plan of attack to combat back injuries—a plan that not only decreased the number of minor back injuries but also improved the workers' overall health.

The Contest

In the spring of 2003, the Safety Committee met to discuss ways to promote back safety. Based on the doctor's comments, it was suggested that we have a weight loss contest to promote healthier backs. Twenty-six employees responded to the challenge and collectively lost 288 lbs., an average of 11.07 lbs. per person.

On the morning of May 5, 2003, all participants weighed in. Their weights were recorded, and for the next three months the race was on. Weight Watchers, the Rotation Diet, the Atkins Diet, the Grapefruit Diet – this was the buzz between the first and second floors. Some wanted to lose a lot of weight and some wanted to lose just a few pounds.

Each week at weigh-in, we heard shouts of joy because a few more pounds were dropped. As the weeks passed by, the competition heated up and individual challenges were issued. "I'm going to win." "It's on!"

Shouts of joy were not the only sounds we heard at weigh-in. Occasionally, there were sighs and laughter with voices saying, "Oh well, I guess I ate too much cake this weekend," or "I only had an ice cream sundae," with a follow-up of, "I'm really going to get serious this week."

Each week after weigh-in, we posted a chart documenting each person's weight loss by percentage of his or her initial weight. Everyone was assigned a chart number and could track his or her progress against the rest of the participants. By looking at Figure 1

An Extra Incentive

As an incentive, company CEO, Fred Kelly, told the participants that the company would match $1.00 to each pound lost to be used towards lunch for everyone. Also, the male and female winners would receive a gift. At the end of the contest, we had $288.00 to spend on lunch. We all voted and decided to go to On the Border (our local Mexican restaurant, a favorite). The male winner received a $50.00 gift certificate to an outdoor wear and sporting goods store. The female winner received a $50.00 gift certificate to a spa.

A New Challenge

CEO Kelly issued a new challenge at the luncheon. The new challenge is to keep the weight off and build on the earlier success. Over the next three months, if participants keep the weight off, the company again will match $1.00 for each lost pound maintained, but for every pound gained, $1.00 will be taken away. Additional pounds lost also will be matched by $1.00.

So, can we do it? Can we rise to the challenge? Time and the scales will tell. Many who entered the contest told us that it seemed much easier to accomplish their goals when the task was approached as a team effort.

The weight loss contest has been a huge success in terms of improving workers' health and back safety awareness, results that should translate into a decline in minor back injuries. It pays to think outside-of-the-box and to make the pursuit of health and safety fun.

Kelly Langdon is the safety coordinator for Aeroglide Corp.,100 Aeroglide Drive, Cary, N.C. 27511 919-851-2000, He can be reached at

Kelly Langdon

Kelly Langdon

Safety Coordinator
Aeroglide Corp.
100 Aeroglide Drive
Cary, NC
Phone: 919-851-2000