According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), one-third of all employee injury and illness cases are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that occur in the workplace. These injuries add up to the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time.
MSDs commonly affect the muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons due to poor posture or chronic, repetitive motion. The most common examples of MSDs are:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Injuries affecting the shoulder, back and elbow
Historically, companies took employees and put them in a job. In ergonomics, the study of fitting a job to a person, employee safety and productivity comes first. When there is a focus on ergonomics, companies can help lessen muscle fatigue and reduce the number and severity of work-related MSDs.
Start With a Plan
If an employer has workers who are exposed to repetitive motion, a written ergonomics plan may help prevent injuries. Not sure where to begin? Here are some of the best practices I’ve learned from conducting thousands of ergonomic assessments during my career.
- Analyze risk. Every job has an inherent risk, and it’s critical for employers to be aware of them. Some of highest risk occupations for injury are nurses, firefighters, janitors, cleaners, stock clerks, and production workers. At CopperPoint, we conduct a work station ergonomic study anytime an employee is shorter than 5 feet 4 inches or taller than 6 feet. Consider business cycles, too. If you own an accounting firm, your employees may be at a higher risk during tax season. Awareness is critical to plan and prioritize your efforts.
- Did I say prioritize? If 80 percent of your staff works on a computer, but only 15 percent are full-time, prioritize corrective action and focus on the full-time employees who are most at risk for injury.
- Seek expertise. Outside council with certified ergonomists is well worth the effort.
Partner. Your insurance carrier is a valuable resource.
- Build a corrective action plan. Do your research and build a long-term plan that is measurable and will stand up even when budgets are tight.
Carl Hamilton is a Loss Control and Risk Management supervisor at CopperPoint Insurance Companies, a leading provider of workers’ compensation insurance and property and casualty insurance products. Hamilton has conducted thousands of ergonomic assessments during his career. He is an active member in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), National Safety Council (NSC) and the National Association of Safety Professionals. Hamilton holds a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration and emergency management from Grand Canyon University.