Occupational Low-back Pain in Care Workers

Japan is ageing more rapidly than other East Asian countries. Two million care workers are employed for elderly following the introduction of long-term care insurance system in 2000. Historically caring for the elderly was carried out by family members, mainly women, but changing family structures and greater levels of female employment means that there is an urgent need for qualified care workers. The professional care worker is therefore playing an increasingly important role in Japanese society.

In recent years there has been an increase in resignations amongst care workers. There are three reasons for this: (1) society does not value care work highly; (2) terms of employment are poor; and (3) the psychological and physical burdens created by the workplace environment are not improving. As a consequence it remains difficult to recruit talented workers and serious manpower shortages occur. Under these circumstances, policy initiatives and educational programmes need to be implemented and improving the treatment of care workers and their workplace environment remain a high priority.

In 2008 and 2009, surveys and interviews were conducted in nursing homes amongst care workers and this study explores the difficulties faced by those workers who experienced physical problems due to their work. Findings (450 valid responses) indicate that occupational lower-back pain has become an increasing problem and a common cause of sick leave. Compared with USA and UK, self and health regulation for care workers is insufficient to prevent problems from occupational back pain. This paper reflects on current health policy for care workers and explores available educational programmes.

We hope that our experiences will provide good lessons for other East Asian countries, such as South Korea, where a long-term insurance care system for the elderly began in 2008. This study is still running and we hope to share our experiences and findings with others working in this field.

Name; Agenosono Yoshiko, An Seung-Hee, Hori Takaki, Kamozawa Saori
Email address; s.kamozawa@googlemail.com (Saori Kamozawa)
Institution; Nihon University; College of Humanities and Sciences, Dep. of Sociology