The pain strikes when you least expect it. For me, I felt it when I was putting on a pair of socks one Sunday morning. Of course, this was not my first time feeling this pain, so I knew right away what my next 7-10 days was going to entail. For me, an “attack” is so painful that I can barely walk, let alone move, for the first day (or two). Approximately 8 out of 10 Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lifetime. Preventing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can be accomplished with an ergonomics program. How effective is yours?
MSDs are disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs that are caused by sudden and sustained physical exertion and range in severity from mild/occasional to intense/chronic pain. They are not the result of any instantaneous non-exertion event (e.g., slips, trips or falls). Back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, rotator cuff syndrome, sprains and strains that are caused by job activities and conditions are work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs). [NIOSH]
What’s Your Data Telling You?
Want to know if ergonomics problems are trending up in your facility? Review these sources of injury and illness data:
- OSHA 300 Logs and 301 Reports
- Workers’ Compensation Records
- Incident and Close-Call Investigation Reports
- Worker Reports of Problems
Look for specific cases (tendinitis), unspecified cases (back pain), complaints, mentions, and subtle hints that there is evidence of WMSDs in the field.
Seeing is Believing
Invest time in observing your team in the field. Data is oftentimes unreliable as minor cases are rarely reported. When you decide to be “the fly on the wall,” remember to approach with an ergonomics perspective. Be on the lookout for overexertion, repetition, awkwardness, vibration, or a combination of risk factors. The risk of WMSD injury depends on work situations and postures, mandatory exertion, and the frequency and length of the task. Observations should include behavior watch, too. Are tools being modified by your team? Does anyone shake their arms and hands? These and other behaviors may be a clue that your team is experiencing ergonomic problems. If you discover any concerns, then hold a discussion with the workers. A complete understanding of their views and ideas will kick start elimination solutions.
Knowledge is Power
Ergonomics awareness training, much like ergonomics in general, is likely to send your workers reaching for the snooze button. Your goal should include replacing lagging indicators with leading indicators, so every worker (including managers and supervisors) needs ergonomics awareness training. Training should include, but not limited to, the following topics:
- Risk Factors for WMSDs
- Symptoms of WMSDs
- Risk Factor Remedies
- Reporting Concerns of WMSDs
All training experiences should be filled with creativity and fun. Training should also be customized for the target audience. The work done by an office worker is significantly different from the work done by a laborer in a warehouse.
Success is a Journey, Not a Destination
Effective ergonomics programs result in success stories from all parts of the world and all sorts of industries. Effective implementation of your program begins by the implementation of solutions to ergonomic problems. To reduce the risk of WMSD injury, the hierarchy of controls is executed. Examples include:
- Engineering Controls – Physical change to the workplace – Use diverging conveyors off a main line so that tasks are less repetitive.
- Administrative Controls – Establish efficient procedures – Properly use and maintain pneumatic and power tools.
- Personal Protective Equipment – Protection to reduce exposure – Use padding to reduce direct contact with hard surfaces.
Please remember that engineering controls are most effective and PPE are the least.
Ways to Get Started
- Establish Management Commitment
- Encourage Employee Participation
- Collaborate with Our Safety Professionals
- Provide Training
- Establish S.M.A.R.T. Goals
Be sure to evaluate your program’s successes (and failures) to determine its effectiveness. Our safety professionals can help here, too. We’ve got your back!