The 1990s were a time of DVDs, the World Wide Web, and the rise of ergonomics– Wait what was that last one? Ergonomics, the study of work, with an end goal of designing jobs to fit around employees and not the other way around. Ergonomic processes include modifying routine tasks, assessing reach zones, and eliminating the risks of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The science of ergonomics started to become a hot topic in the 1990s and led to the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) issuing an Ergonomics Program Standard in 2000 which estimated that $1 of every $3 spent on workers' compensation costs stemmed from ergonomic issues, resulting in annual costs of up to $54 billion.
These costs show that ergonomics is one aspect of employee safety that cannot be ignored but embraced to use any combating ergonomic injuries which can take employees out of work, adversely impacting the organization and employee. Let's take a look at some of the most common ergonomic-related injuries and how companies can fight back to keep their employees happy and healthy while on the job.
Most Common Ergonomic Injuries
No matter the industry, ergonomic-related injuries can strike anywhere at any time. This type of workplace injury represents 33% of all worker injuries, accounting for a staggering $15 to $20 billion annually which businesses must absorb.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or CTS as it is also known, is a disorder that causes pain and weakness in the hand and wrist. This disorder affects nerves, not muscles, and results in an average time away from work of 27 days which is the second longest among major disabling conditions. Furthermore, nearly 50% of employees diagnosed with CTS switch jobs within 30 months of being diagnosed, showing the drastic impact this injury can have on the long term well-being of employees.
Tendinitis is an inflammation or irritation to a tendon, a thick cord which attaches skeletal bones to muscles. This injury has multiple degrees of severity, from minor inflammation to serious forms which can keep employees out from a few weeks to several months. As tendons age they become more vulnerable to injury, this is why adults aged forty and older are more at risk of developing tendinitis.
Lower Back Injuries
According to the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill School of Medicine, over 80% of Americans will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. Lower back pain results in more than $100 billion in annual expenses, two-thirds of this is due to decreased wages and productivity.
Ways Employers can Protect Employees from Ergonomic Injuries
There are many ways employers can fight back against ergonomic injuries and ensure their employees remain healthy and happy on the job. Below are a few simple strategies businesses can use to help improve on-the-job health and lower operational expenses at the same time.
Tone at the Top
For any ergonomic program to be successful, senior management must not only display their support but also be a powerful voice behind ergonomic injury prevention. A strong commitment by senior management is critical to addressing ergonomic injuries in the workplace and supporting strategies to lower their adverse results. Clear communications and goals should flow down from senior leaders to every level of the organization, letting employees know their health and safety is a top priority by leadership.
To get employees actively thinking about addressing ergonomic hazards in the workplace, a participatory approach can get employees directly involved in worksite assessments, solution development, and proper implementation. Workers are a great resource to identify current workplace hazards and can assist in voicing concerns and suggestions for reducing the exposure to ergonomic injuries in the workplace. Engaged employees are also less likely to engage in behaviors which can lead to ergonomic injuries developing by being cognizant of their actions in completing everyday tasks.
When it comes to eliminating or decreasing ergonomic injuries, training is a crucial component of any health and safety program. Proper education and training on how to prevent ergonomic injuries such as carpal tunnel or lower back injuries is the best way to get a return on investment when it comes to employee safety training. However, the success of training is largely based on consistent application. Consistent training on injury prevention helps establish an internal working environment where safety is instilled into the organizational culture and becomes a way of life. An organizational culture which places employee safety and health on the forefront will reap the rewards when it comes to protecting the bottom line from increased injury-related expenses.
Measure and Evaluate Progress
Besides training, evaluating ergonomic risk indicators is pivotal to any injury prevention program. Evaluation and corrective action procedures ensure ergonomic programs are not stagnant but continuously improving. By measuring and evaluating progress on ergonomic injury prevention goals, employers can confirm if current solution strategies are working as intended or if any improvements are needed to ensure long-term success. Workplaces are always evolving no matter the industry, which shows why constant measurement of injury prevention programs is needed, no program is perfect but striving for perfection is never a bad goal when it comes to employee safety.
Ergonomic injuries are a known nuisance hiding in workplaces all over the country. The only way these injuries can be addressed effectively is through leadership support, employee-involved strategies, proper training, and sound evaluation programs. Decreasing these types of injuries has a profound impact on not only the bottom line but also on keeping employees engaged when they are on the job. In the end, engaged employees are the lifeblood that separates ordinary companies from extraordinary. Push ergonomic injuries to the side and place your employee's health front and center, the results will always be positive. Stay safe out there and get in touch with the ergonomics experts at Work-Fit!