A century ago, the majority of the working population was engaged in farm work or factory/industry jobs that required a strong back and hard day's work. Today, however, the vast majority of workers in the United States no longer have jobs that require heavy lifting or other forms of strenuous physical exertion. One might think that the proliferation of office jobs and other relatively “sedentary” workplace environments would have diminished the frequency and likelihood of workplace injuries.
However, the sedentary and repetitive jobs that millions of workers engage in on a daily basis have led to a number of serious health problems, including carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive stress injuries (RPI), and others. In this short article, we will take a look at some of the most common health issues affecting today's workers and the effects of those health troubles. We will then look at how an ergonomic assessment can play a major role in reducing the frequency and severity of these workplace injuries.
Common Workplace Injuries in Today's Economy
Workers in warehouse settings might suffer adverse health effects due to heavy lifting and other types of physical exertion. However, the most common types of workplace injuries affecting today's workers are related to the stress of repetitive movements within a relatively sedentary work setting. Some of these injuries include:
- Repetitive Stress/Strain Injury (RSI): Repetitive stress injuries, also known as overuse injuries occur when too much stress is placed on one, specific part of the body. These injuries can lead to inflammation, pain, swelling, and/or tingling and numbness. A few examples of RSI include tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), RSI affects some 1.8 million workers per year. In terms of cost to companies, the frequency of RSI costs businesses between $17 billion and $20 billion a year.
- Other Musculoskeletal Disorders: Musculoskeletal disorders refer to a wide range of conditions that can affect muscles, bones and joints. Among the most common musculoskeletal disorders are muscle strain and ligament sprain. According to the CDC, “musculoskeletal disorders are associated with high costs to employers such as absenteeism, lost productivity, and increased health care, disability, and worker’s compensation costs. MSD cases are more severe than the average nonfatal injury or illness.”
The Importance of an Ergonomic Evaluation to Avoid These Common Workplace Injuries
The performance of a regular ergonomic assessment is one of the best strategies to identify repetitive stress injury, musculoskeletal disorders, and other common workplace injuries that occur in both sedentary and physically demanding types of jobs. Because these health problems occur over time, properly identifying behaviors and habits can help avoid the long-term, sometimes chronic health problems that develop.
An ergonomic assessment is essentially an evaluation of a worker at their workstation. The assessment will seek to ensure and encourage correct working postures and workstation set-up. In some cases, an ergonomic evaluation may recommend certain tools such as an ergonomic keyboard, standing desk, footrest, lift assist or a turntable. However, a proper ergonomic assessment should also seek to reduce a worker's exposure to physical hazards such as uncomfortable postures, repetitive tasks, and other workplace hazards that strain the body.
A proper ergonomic assessment should include some of the following elements:
- Review Data and Information on Common Workplace Injuries: This will ensure that the evaluators understand the most common work-related injuries in order to best focus the ergonomics assessment.
- Determine Assessment Tools: A proper ergonomics evaluation will also incorporate well-respected ergonomics assessment tools developed by respected organizations such as the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
- Collect Subjective Data: A good evaluator team will engage with the business owner, managers, and employees themselves to gain a solid understanding of the workplace environment. Walk-throughs, interviews, observation, and other data-collection tools will help the evaluators identify MSD stressors in the workplace environment.
- Make a Prioritized List: Based on the subjective data collected, the evaluation team should next create a list of work activities and work stations that need to be measured.
- Data Analysis and Risk Priority: Lastly, the assessment team needs to analyze all of the relevant information to put together a prioritized list identifying the main risk factors. This document should also present the risk reduction opportunities for the company. These opportunities for risk mitigation should be clearly laid out in short-term and long-term steps to help companies improve the ergonomics at their workplace.
Align Your Workforce With Work-Fit
Work-Fit is a nationwide leader in injury prevention and management for your workforce, delivering our services both onsite and virtually. Our ergonomics program can help your business identify problems that could lead to repetitive stress injury or other forms of musculoskeletal disorders. We have a proactive and preventive care process that starts with learning about your company’s work environment and where your employees spend the majority of their time.
Our intervention involves input from employees and management to discover musculoskeletal disorder stressors in your workplace, and then provides in-depth coaching/training and assistance with developing policies and protocols to help workers avoid those stressors. Contact Work-Fit today to see how we can help your company develop an ergonomics program that will lower your workers compensation costs and improve the health and safety of your workforce.