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Exclusive interview with Julia Love of National Back Exchange.

Mind your backs!

When Julia Love qualified as a nurse in 1979, she could never have imagined she’d have left the profession to pursue a career in manual handling and would be Chairman of National Back Exchange.

However, it was in fact the first-hand insight into the problems surrounding manual handling in the healthcare industry that led to Mrs Love making such a dramatic career change 20 years ago, when she became an independent manual handling trainer and advisor working with all types of businesses and public sector organisations.

At the same time Mrs Love, who is originally from London, joined her local National Back Exchange group in her adopted home county of Yorkshire, in order to meet other like-minded people and ensure her training remained up to scratch. She began attending the organisation’s events and annual conference, which takes place in September in Hinckley, and before long she was Chairman of the regional group before joining the national executive board and then becoming Chairman in 2011.

Mrs Love explains: "As soon as I started my nursing training I was aware of the huge amount of heavy lifting that I was doing. Nurses often had to support the weight of patients as well as carrying out lots of other heavy and awkward tasks. At the time, like in many other industries, manual handling injuries and bad backs were seen as being part of the job and there was little proper training. Instead the advice was 'knees bent, back straight' but this is a very unnatural position, creating an unbalanced posture, which isn't helpful!"

"When a friend was forced to quit her nursing training because of an injury sustained from lifting, I knew something had to be done, so I began researching the subject and once qualified started offering informal training to colleagues which was always well-received and made a difference. My interest in the subject continued growing and I eventually decided offering manual handling training could become a full-time job so I made the switch."

Mrs Love continues: "I still work closely with the healthcare sector as well as clients across all industries but training is now just one part of the work. Another big area is advising on setting up systems, carrying out risk assessments and equipment audits because you can have all the training in the world but it’s useless without the correct equipment in place."

"Plus, a lot is changing, 30 years ago manual handling problems nearly always affected the lower back but there’s now a big increase in general musculoskeletal problems relating to the shoulders, arms, wrists and neck."

"Lots of these problems affect office workers who sit in front of computers all day and these problems may become more prevalent in the future because whereas nowadays warning signs highlight heavy loads, and health and safety staff look out for poor lifting techniques, most office workers currently receive little advice about their posture."

"High profile marketing campaigns educate people about most other major health issues, such as reducing the risks of heart disease or cancer, and school pupils are taught about staying healthy, but few people know about the causes of back pain. Children now often spend hours sitting at computers so we need to get the message out there."

This is certainly a problem that National Back Exchange is working hard to tackle, albeit on a much smaller budget than many other not-for-profit health related organisations.

The organisation has just over 1,000 members who each pay £45 a year. Benefits include a quarterly magazine, reduced admission to the organisation's annual three day conference, discounts on a wide range of publications and access to an online forum where members offer advice and share ideas. Plus there are plenty of networking opportunities at the organisation’s 19 regional groups throughout the UK.

Mrs Love says: "National Back Exchange was formed when several people in the healthcare industry, who shared an interest in improving and promoting musculoskeletal health joined forces to share and exchange ideas and information. Members now include professionals from health and social services, community services, private care settings, therapeutic services, educational establishments, health and safety organisations, ergonomists, equipment companies and other interested organisations."

"This year marks National Back Exchange's 25th anniversary but in many cases our work is only just beginning, especially if we are going to prevent workplaces accumulating a whole new range of musculoskeletal problems for the future."

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