Musculoskeletal injuries impact thousands of trade and retail industry employees on an annual basis. Studies show these workers experienced a combined injury and illness rate higher than the construction industry in 2016. In the 24/7 global trade industry, there is a push by companies to put inventory over safety in some instances to beat the competition for precious market share.
These myopic strategies can expose workers to conditions that can foster future musculoskeletal disorders. To prevent this a top-down organizational commitment is needed to keep retail and trade workers on the job to meet the significant consumer demand in today's global trade ecosystem.
This article will look at the most common types of musculoskeletal conditions that can develop in the retail and trade industry. An industry that is crowded with repetitive tasks and manual activities (e.g. lifting) which exposes employees to increased risk of injuries.
Stenosing tenosynovitis or "trigger finger" is a musculoskeletal condition developed over time from completing repetitive tasks. These repetitive tasks can result in a finger getting stuck in one position due to inflation. Employees engaged in repetitive gripping tasks on a consistent basis are at a higher risk of developing trigger finger. Furthermore, the condition is more common with women and those with diabetes.
One common way to prevent this injury risk to employees is to establish rotational work which decreases the amount of repetitive actions an employee completes in a normal working day. This strategy avoids the chance of trigger finger becoming a workplace issue which takes employees off the floor and unable to service customers. A risk many in the retail and trade industry can simply not afford to overlook.
Lower Back Injuries
Those in the trade industry, most notably retail, are not known to sit for long periods of time like other clerical positions. Workers are constantly moving, bending, twisting, lifting, and holding items to complete job duties. With these movements comes the risks of lower back injuries, ranging from acute pain to chronic, long-term conditions. Repetitive tasks that require employees to move their bodies into awkward positions are at a heightened risk of lower back injuries.
Lower back injuries are a major concern for the trade industry as these conditions can lead to long-term care which can drive up workers compensation costs and keep employees on the sidelines, unable to assist the business in meeting objectives. Safety programs, like those crafted by Work-Fit, focusing on ergonomic ways for employees to avoid lower back injuries is a great recommendation to keep employees working and healthy over the long run.
Carpel Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. Compression of the median nerve can lead to burning, tingling, or numbness in the hand, most notably the palm and fingers. This musculoskeletal condition does not happen suddenly but develops over a period of time where the median nerve is compressed during routine activities. One of the most common examples of CTS is from consistently using a keyboard for prolonged periods of time.
A CDC study of California workers compensation claims from 2007-2014 found the condition is most common among workers between the ages of 45-54 and women are at a higher risks than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Although no single cause can be attributed to CTS, trade industry workers engaged in repetitive tasks involving the hands and wrists should be cautious as over time the median nerve can become vulnerable to this condition. Similar to trigger finger, a work rotation that decreases long-term repetitive tasks can be a great risk control strategy to prevent these types of injuries from keeping workers off the job.
Five Ways Companies Can Decrease Musculoskeletal Injuries
Musculoskeletal injuries are not 100% preventable but there are ways companies can provide the resources that keep their workers safe, healthy, and happy on the job. Below are five recommendations companies can implement today to fight back against musculoskeletal conditions in the workplace.
Just how a track runner or gymnast properly stretches before an event, so should workers to keep the body flexible and loose while working. Stretching before, during and after work at a minimum can help decrease the risks of musculoskeletal conditions from developing into full-blown injuries which lead to increases in worker absenteeism. So, reach for the sky, stretch out those legs, and keep your employees ready to take on the day.
Many employees fail when it comes to properly staying hydrated during the workday. However, this one activity can provide a wealth of benefits to help workers fight back against musculoskeletal injuries. The European Food Safety Authority provides a great guideline for how much fluids a worker should consume on a normal work day. They recommend 2.5 liters for men and two liters for women per day.
This organization chooses to use the word fluids over water, as coffee, tea, and other water-based beverages can be consumed to meet the daily goal. This is a simple and easy process which provides a multitude of benefits for workers in the trade industry. Staying hydrated is not only for athletes on the biggest stages, it is equally important for workers to keep their bodies in peak condition.
With a good number of workers standing for long periods of time while also being engaged in other activities from reaching to lifting, good posture can sometimes suffer. Poor posture can lead to a multitude of injuries affecting all parts of the body. Employers can implement ergonomic strategies to help prevent poor posture from leading to long-term injuries for workers, which includes: providing an area where cashiers can raise a foot reducing fatigue, providing adjustable keyboards, and using proper mechanical tools to help carry goods.
These strategies can help prevent poor posture from infecting a workplace and leading to increased employee injuries. We are taught from an early age about the importance of good posture, by simply focusing on this, workers can reduce their risks of developing musculoskeletal injuries.
Training employees proper ways to complete job duties in the safest manner possible is key to decreasing employee injuries. Since retail and trade workers engage in several repetitive tasks throughout a normal work day, ergonomic training can prevent employees from creating bad habits that can lead to future injuries. From how to properly lift heavy materials to the best ways to reach for items, ergonomic training completed on a consistent basis (at least once a year) can give workers the educational tools needed to keep themselves safe on the job.
Encourage Early Reporting
Early reporting of developing musculoskeletal injuries can be a great loss prevention technique to get employees the medical attention they need before a condition becomes more severe. If employees are encouraged to report early symptoms of musculoskeletal conditions, companies can avoid costly workers compensation claims and keep employees focused on exceeding customer expectations. Open communication channels help improve internal relationships and keep employees engaged and safe on the job. A win-win for any organization.
Musculoskeletal injuries are all too common in the trade industry. However, with proper training and education employers can keep workers safe and healthy. From carpal tunnel to lower back injuries, no worker wants to develop a musculoskeletal injury while engaged in their normal job duties.
At Work-Fit we believe in treating the corporate/occupational worker as an athlete, because the occupational athlete has many of the same physical demands. By integrating our certified healthcare professionals with your team, we can deliver the same level of care afforded to a professional athlete that will keep your team members healthy and on the job. With just a few simple strategies, employers can focus on how to meet the needs of their customers and have the workforce ready to meet that challenge.