Workplace Wellness: Workplace Ergonomics & the Prevention of Injury

30Workplace Wellness: The importance of Workplace Ergonomics in the Prevention of Injury

Implementing workplace wellness programs can be a significant task.  However, as covered in the latest posts in this series, the benefits of a healthy workforce can more than justify the effort. While healthy workers are certainly less of a drain on your business, and less likely to require time off due to illnesses, they are not immune to another hazards that can keep them from working to their greatest potential and put them at risk. Work-site injuries are a significant risk for any business. They can lead to incredibly costly medical bills, lost productivity, and increased insurance premiums. You're probably well covered in terms of the safety procedures you have put in place to prevent accidents at work, but there is another type of injury that could turn out to be even more costly.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are not caused by accidents, but rather from job conditions or tasks that lead to or contribute to the condition.  WMSDs are typically slow-burners, increasing in severity with each day hunched over a computer screen or every twist and lift in the warehouse.  They creep up on us. It's the lower back ache that grows in severity each day.  The tingling and numbness in the right hand that begins to affect sleep and dexterity.  When these conditions are allowed to persist to the point of becoming chronic the cost to both the individual and your business may be irreversible.

What exactly is a Musculoskeletal Disorder?
A musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) is an injury or disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage or spinal discs. Work-related MSDs are conditions in which the work environment and performance of work contribute significantly to the condition. Examples of workplace conditions that may lead to WMSDs include routine lifting of heavy objects, daily exposure to whole body vibration, routine overhead work, work with the neck in a chronic flexion position (head bent forward) or performing repetitive forceful tasks. Examples of MSDs are sprains, tears, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis and hernia.  Two of the most common chronic conditions are back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 26,794 Carpal tunnel syndrome cases and 372,683 back injury cases involving days away from work in 2001. Statistics like that show why these clandestine conditions should be taken seriously.

There are numerous strategies you can implement to reduce WMSDs in their workplace. They may not all make sense for your business, but consider the following ideas to help minimize the impact of WMSDs and prevent them altogether.

Workplace Ergonomics
Most musculoskeletal disorders are caused either by repetitive tasks or poor ergonomics. The following tips could help educate your employees on the importance of proper posture and alignment at their workstation.

  • Encourage employees to keep their back erect and supported by the back rest at all times while seated.  Slouching places the spine in an unnatural position and often leads to further back problems.  Keep relaxed and comfortable while seated and encourage your team to keep their shoulders loose.
  • Try to ensure that your team's computer monitors are at eye level and straight in front of them. Twisting and straining of the neck to see the monitor is a common but completely avoidable practice.  Make it company policy to have the screen at a certain height.
  • If your employees are constantly overreaching or typing at an awkward angle while working then that repetition could eventually lead to shoulder, back and wrist complications. Encourage them to keep the keyboard straight and the mouse within comfortable reach to prevent repetitive overstretching.
  • Footstools are cool! Encourage the use of, or provide, footstools in the office. Keeping feet firmly planted on a footstool while seated at a desk can help the body stay in proper alignment and prevent slouched posture.
  • Take a break! Encourage employees to take a break once every hour to stretch their legs and get the blood flowing.  Movement and stretching can go a long way to offsetting certain MSD’s.

If you want to go a step further you may consider providing ergonomically designed workstations and chairs.  This may be costly to being with but the long term benefit could be substantial.

Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle
As discussed in our previous posts, promoting a healthy lifestyle to employees can bring many benefits including helping to prevent musculoskeletal disorders. Improving physical health and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce pain for individuals with arthritis and back problems, and can help employees prevent these and other MSDs.  Certain onsite activities could be particularly beneficial for combating MSD’s.  Yoga and Pilates are two activities that hold fantastic preventative power.  Both activities develop strength, balance, flexibility, posture and good breathing technique. Both systems emphasize the connection between physical and mental health.  If you have a receptive workplace keen to take part in some organised activity then classes such as these could be a winner.

Administrative Changes
Make administrative changes as they make sense in your workplace to reduce the risk of injuries. These may include reducing shift length, limiting overtime, scheduling more breaks for rest and recovery, rotating workers through jobs that are physically taxing and instituting pre-shift stretching sessions. Develop policies that support a corporate culture of good health, safety and injury management, such as: Required use of personal protective equipment.

Encourage early reporting of WMSDs by employees, and prompt evaluation by health care providers. Many workplaces stress early reporting for injuries, but employees may understand that to mean only sudden injuries, like accidents, slips and falls. Even though WMSDs occur over time, employees should still report them and get evaluated early—employee education can help promote this practice in your workplace.



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