From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

RESEARCH: Predictors of Work-Related Chronic Low Back Disability Defined

Predictors of chronic disability among employees who sustained a work-related back injury include injury severity (i.e., radiculopathy, marked functional disability, broad pain involvement) and a history of previous extended lost time injury, according to a University of Washington study. A relationship was also seen between disability (wage compensation for temporary total disability 12 months after claim submission) and specialty of the health care provider first seen for the injury, job difficulty (“hectic”), and lack of worksite modification.

The one-year study had a prospective cohort design and involved 1,885 new lost time work-related back injury claims. Since multiple contributors to time loss were found, the authors felt low back injuries with similar clinical findings but leading to different disability durations could be explained. Further, it is suggested that considering factors within and external to the worker could lead to more successful outcomes relative to low back disability. 

The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists

This study found that there was twice the chance of long term disability if worksite modification (i.e., light duty or reduced hours) was not offered to the injured employee by the third week after being off the job. The cost of an administrative or engineering control would mostly likely be miniscule compared to the cost of wage compensation, claims management, reduced workplace production, and higher workers’ compensation premiums.

Other Significant Findings

1) There was no association between employees who acquired assistance from an attorney and the incidence of long term disability.
2) Older age was not found to be a predictor of long term disability.
3) Better outcomes occurred when the injured employee’s first treating physician was a chiropractor.

This research paper can be acquired at: 

Article Title: Early Predictors of Chronic Work Disability: A Prospective Population-Based Study of Workers With Back Injuries
Publication: Spine, 33(25), 2809-2818, 2008
Authors: J A Turner, G Franklin, D Fulton-Kehoe, L Sheppard, B Stover, R Wu, J V Gluck, and T M Wickizer

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2009-01-27.