Does your back hurt? Are you experiencing neck pain? Do you find yourself complaining of hand, arm, knee, or muscle aches? If so, you may be suffering from a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). Discomfort/pain, numbness, tingling, stiffness, burning, cramping, and swelling of bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments can be symptoms of MSDs. If work or leisure activities are causing discomfort – it is time to become more ergonomically aware.
MSDs are conditions of muscles (sprains/strains), tendons (inflammation), ligaments, joints (arthritis), and nerves that are often associated with exposures to ergonomic risk factors, including awkward postures, repetition, force, contact stress, and vibration. Age, sex, obesity, and health conditions (i.e., diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and hypothyroidism) can also play a factor.
Being aware of ergonomic risk factors can significantly reduce your chance of developing MSDs which have costly and disabling effects for many Americans. An estimated 126.6 million Americans aged 18 and older suffer from MSDs – that is one in two adults. Costs related to MSDs involve treatment (medical visits, prescriptions), lost wages, and work-related injuries, estimated to exceed $200 billion annually.
MSDs often result in chronic complaints, disability, issues with mobility and decreased quality of life and are the second largest contributor to disability worldwide. Frequently, MSDs result in work-related injuries impacting worker’s compensation costs, absenteeism, and productivity.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that approximately 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries/illnesses occurred in 2017, one-third of those resulted in days away from work. MSDs represented 32% of those injuries.
Employers and workers share in the responsibility to help reduce risk factors by understanding ergonomics, taking actions to decrease those risks, and promoting best work practices throughout the organization. Ergonomics involves everyone.
Ergonomics includes engineering, administrative, and personal controls to help the job fit the worker, rather than trying to have the worker fit the job.
Engineering controls include: work space design, reducing the weight of loads or applying lift-assist devices, automating processes, and re-designing tools to promote neutral postures.
Administrative controls focus on establishing work practices to reduce the risk of injury and encompass actions such as job rotation, managing over-time, providing adequate staffing, reviewing injury logs, performing accident investigations, promoting near-miss reporting, providing employee education on MSDs/risk factors, encouraging early reporting of work-related injuries/illnesses, implementing break and stretching schedules, discussing work load and job satisfaction with employees, and maintaining equipment and tools. Providing ergonomic friendly accessories, such as adjustable table/chairs, lumbar supports, footrests, arm supports, document holders, sit/stand work stations can each promote the job fitting the worker.
Lastly, personal controls include the appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE), being mindful of posturing, alternating between sitting and standing, reporting of work injuries at the first sign of discomfort, participating in ergonomic stretches/micro-breaks and safety committees. Everyone should be mindful of posturing (feet flat on the floor or footrest, back supported, elbows close to the body, avoid slouching, keep neutral postures), avoid awkward positions (bending the neck, static postures, placing wrists at extreme angles, working above shoulder height, stooping/crouching), reduce unnecessary movements, limit carrying heavy loads, avoid excessive bending and twisting, avoid overreaching, and keep frequently used items within a safe reach zone.
Implementing ergonomic awareness and promoting a culture of safety and overall total worker health will reduce the risk of work-related injuries, increase productivity and job satisfaction, decrease costs associated with worker’s compensation and health premiums. The truth is, awareness goes a long way in preventing injury.
2 Bone and Joint Initiative USA, “The Impact of Musculoskeletal Disorders on Americans—Opportunities for Action,” Executive Summary of The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States: Prevalence, Societal and Economic Cost, third edition.
9 Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, “Ergonomics Principles for Reducing Awkward Postures,” accessed March 15, 2019, http://www.lni.wa.gov/Safety/SprainsStrains/AwkwardPostures/ReducingAwkwardPostures.pdf.