Why you need an effective ergonomics program

Date Posted: 09/18/2023
Muscle soreness

About 300,000 ergonomic injuries involve days away from work each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These injuries most commonly occur in transportation, retail, manufacturing, and healthcare. However, any job that requires lifting or repetitive motion could put employees at risk for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

According to BLS data:

  • In 2018, there were 272,780 MSD cases involving days away from work. In 2011, there were 311,840 cases with days away.
  • The median days away from work in 2018 was 12 days.
  • For all industries, the incidence rate of MSD cases was 27.2 per 10,000 full time workers in 2018. The transportation and warehousing industry had an incidence rate of 77.1 MSD cases in 2018.
  • In 2019, ergonomic injuries accounted for 47,280 emergency room visits.

Poor ergonomics can cause a variety of injuries, depending on the cause. Common injuries include sprains and strains to the back, neck, or shoulder from lifting. In addition, poor ergonomics can result in hernias, tendinitis, tennis elbow, or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Preventing these injuries is essential because they take a long time to heal, and some workers never fully recover. The injured worker may require surgery or could end up with permanent restrictions.

Prevention requires evaluation

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to preventing ergonomic injuries. The prevention strategies applied will depend on the particular risks posed by each job task. Of course, some individuals are more susceptible to these disorders. However, minimizing or eliminating hazards should help lower the risk for everyone.

The first step is to evaluate the job duties and tasks, identify risks, and decide how best to eliminate or minimize them. This sounds simple, but as noted, depends on the particular hazards. Mitigation measures might range from adding adjustable workstations, rotating workers through strenuous tasks, or even adopting a stretching program for employees performing certain duties. Consider bringing in a physical therapist or similar expert to assist with the evaluation.

Other important steps include training workers to use appropriate techniques (such as proper lifting, correct posture, or other movements) and raising awareness of risk factors. Since early intervention is key to preventing a condition from worsening, employees need to recognize warning signs and immediately report any problems.

Employees might ignore or fail to report soreness, tingling, or other discomfort, thinking they’ll just work through it. They need to understand that these warning signs may indicate a problem developing, and the condition could worsen.

Of course, employees who are new to a job or task might naturally feel sore after using new muscle groups. However, if a problem persists or new warning signs develop after weeks or months on the job, that should raise a red flag that something isn’t right.

Explain to employees that ergonomic conditions can become lifelong problems, affecting their ability to enjoy life outside of work, causing chronic pain or mobility limitations. Immediately reporting signs or symptoms of a potentially developing condition not only helps the company identify and address a problem to make the job easier, but helps ensure that employees can continue to enjoy a full life outside of work.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

Safety Topic Webcasts

Ergonomic issues and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) aren’t new to the workplace. However, the direct and indirect costs of MSDs may surprise you! To learn more, join our webcast “The REAL Cost of Workplace Musculoskeletal Disorders” on September 28, 2023. Our experts will discuss MSDs and how they affect worker safety as well as your company’s bottom line. This presentation will cover training best practices, tips for MSD reporting and recordkeeping, and more! Log in or start a free trial and save your seat today!

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