Teaching Safety in a Seemingly Safe Environment
Workers in different industries are exposed to a variety of unique risk factors that could affect their health and wellness. But no matter if you’re lifting heavy boxes or sitting at an office desk, all workers have the right to working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm. This is where ergonomics come into play. Good ergonomics adapt the job to fit the person, rather than forcing the person to fit the job. Protecting employees from ergonomic injuries should be a top priority for all businesses. However, no business can ever be injury-proof, and accidents can happen even with the proper safety procedures and training in place.
What Are Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD)?
A musculoskeletal disorder, a MSD, is an injury or disorder that affects an individual’s body movements or musculoskeletal system (muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels, etc.). These are typically caused by repetitive, awkward positions or forceful exertions that result in discomfort and pain. Employees often miss work when diagnosed with an MSD.
Examples of Common Ergonomic Injuries:
A combination of risk factors, over time, can lead to pain, injury, and disability—impacting staff morale and your bottom line with increased workers’ compensation claims.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS): CTS is the most common ergonomic injury. This injury results in pain and weakness of one’s wrist and hand. According to The University of Maryland Medical Center, about 3% of women and 2% of men will be diagnosed with CTS throughout their lifetime and will miss, on average, 27 days of work.
- Tendinitis: Tendinitis is described as the inflammation or irritation of a tendon. Tendons are essentially tough strings that bond bones and muscles together. The injuries from tendinitis range from minimal to extreme, with the recovery period lasting from a few weeks to beyond a few months.
- Lower Back Injuries: More than 80% of individuals are expected to experience lower back pain at least once in their lifetime, according to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. This type of injury is common in the workplace from living heavy objects to sitting improperly at their desks.
- Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow): Tennis elbow is the pain or soreness in the outer part of the elbow, typically affecting an individual’s dominant arm. This treatment costs around $80,000 in direct medical costs but can easily be prevented with ergonomic solutions and trainings.
What are the Signs of an Ergonomic Injury?
It is important to identify early signs of ergonomic injuries such as CPS, Tendinitis, Lower Back Injuries, and Tennis Elbow. Repetitive, awkward, or high-pressure movements will increase further harm to one’s body. Some ergonomic injury symptoms include:
- Pain, aching, burning, or sharp stabbing pains in fingers/wrists/other body parts
- Tingling or numbness of any body part, specifically the fingers or hands
- Swelling, inflammation, stiffness of joints
- Loss of muscle control
- Discomfort in the shoulders, neck, or any parts of the upper/lower back
- Body parts turning white or unusually cold
- Loss of coordination
- Discomfort with specific movements
Often, ergonomic injuries will progress in stages from mild to severe. If an employee begins feeling discomfort, it is important to attempt to prevent an injury right away. This will lead to a faster, less-painful, and less-expensive recovery.
How to Reduce the Risk of Ergonomic Injuries
- Identify ergonomic injury risk factors early on and improve them. Work with new and current employees to ensure their workstations are not only comfortable, but also safe. If employees are working with heavy materials, make sure they are equipped with aids that will assist them or relieve some of that weight.
- Encourage employees to occasionally stand up, stretch, and walk around when their job requires sitting for an extended amount of time.
- If any procedures require repetitive or awkward motions, attempt to eliminate that by making job design adjustments or encourage short breaks every 30 minutes to an hour.
- Regularly update training courses for the employees to reflect any changes and to keep ergonomics fresh within employees’ minds.
When it comes to risk management, prevention is essential. Our Risk Control Department works directly with Society policy holders to identify and evaluate dangers that could result in financial loss or injury. Visit our Risk Control Library for handouts and useful resources to help facilitate your safety and health efforts or consult with a Society agent in your area.
Promoting Safety Culture
Organizations with healthy employees have a more productive workforce, a work environment with higher morale, and see a reduced number of workers’ compensation claims. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “workplaces that establish safety and health management systems reduce their injury and illness costs by 20 to 40 percent.” Conducting an annual ergonomic injuries training will inform employees on how to properly sit at and use their workstations safely. Some key benefits on promoting ergonomics training within the workplace include:
- Increased Savings: Fewer ergonomic injuries equates to productive, happy, healthy employees. The average cost of an MSD through workers compensation is $8,070.
- Less Pain: Training employees to identify risk factors early to catch MSDs early on
- Increased Morale: Ergonomics training proves that the company is willing to commit to the safety and wellness of their employees, making it shown that employees are the main asset of a business.
Communicating why this training is of value to employees is crucial so it is taken seriously and not ignored. The training will benefit the employees and employer, plus the overall environment and culture of a business.