A major new study conducted by the UCLA School of Public Health has bolstered the claim that back support devices reduce low-back injuries. The study involved nearly 36,000 employees at Home Depot stores in California who logged 101 million work hours from 1989 through 1994. The company implemented mandatory wearing of belts in early 1990, and the study's authors reported that the workers' rate of acute low back injuries fell from 30.6 per million hours before implementation to 20.2 per million hours. UCLA Professor of Epidemiology Jess F. Kraus, the study's lead author, told The Wall Street Journal. "The study found a pretty big effect with a simple countermeasure. It is pretty hard to argue that it is a chance phenomenon." Kraus, who is the director of UCLA's Southern California injury Prevention Research Center, began his research by visiting 30 Home Depot stores to see whether employees were wearing the belts consistently. Compliance with the mandatory policy was quite high overall-above 98 percent, as calculated during an unannounced walk-through of all 77 stores in late 1993 and early 1994, according to the study. Back support manufactures hailed the Home Depot study as the largest long-term epidemiological study yet undertaken of the supports. It is proof, they said, that back supports are effective personal protective equipment-a contention at odds with the position of NIOSH the National institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In 1994, NIOSH reviewed the scientific literature and concluded there was not enough evidence to recommend that the supports be worn by uninjured workers. Sales plunged after NIOSH released its findings, according to the manufactures. The UCLA researchers found that low-back injuries declined in workers of both sexes, in younger workers as well as those older than 55, and among those with low levels of lifting as well as those with higher levels. The researchers concluded that mandatory use of back supports significantly reduces acute low-back work injuries. Low-back injuries account for one-fourth of all workers' compensation claims paid by U.S. employers-$11 billion in 1990 alone. NIOSH's ergonomic coordinator, Lawrence Fine, told The Journal, "for many companies this is the largest health and safety issue they are wrestling with." NIOSH has embarked on its own, smaller study of back supports' effectiveness among Wal-Mart workers.