Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) have become a leading source of workers’ comp claims for companies and a major source of pain and discomfort for employees.
The basis for controlling MSD hazards is to implement different kinds of ergonomics measures. Ergonomics is a science that focuses on how the body does tasks and the physical impact on the bones, muscles, joints and spine. Ergonomics is about making tasks fit workers rather than the other way around.
Example: Constant reaching exerts physical stress on the back and shoulders. So, measures should be taken so that the worker can do the task using his normal posture without having to reach, e.g., by moving the work closer to him or giving him tools that extend his reach.
What’s at Stake?
Ergonomic injuries affect millions of workers each year and are a main factor in workplace injuries, employee absences, and overall job satisfaction. The cost to employers is more than $20 billion a year. That’s not a typo – $20 billion a year. These costs include worker compensation costs and medical expenses. Here’s a 10-step workplan to help you manage MSD triggers and reduce the risk of ergonomic injuries.
10 STEPS TO TAKE
Step 1: Create an MSD Hazard Assessment Team
Hazard assessment should be led by somebody with experience and training in MSDs and legal requirements. Others who should be part of the hazard assessment team include:
Representatives of departments and operations that may have MSD problems
Supervisors of high risk operations or activities
Safety committee members
Workers familiar with the assessed operations and/or who’ve experienced MSD symptoms
If nobody at your company is qualified, you should consider bringing in an outside consultant.
Step 2: Identify MSD Triggers and Risk Areas
Next, identify MSD hazards in your workplace. The key is to not try and cover everything but focus on jobs, operations, and departments that pose the greatest risks of MSDs.
Methods to identify high-risk areas and triggers include:
Direct observation of how jobs are done by one or more knowledgeable individuals.
Reviewing records that may reveal patterns or trends in ergonomic injuries. Records include:
- Injury logs and summaries
- Workers’ complaints of MSD symptoms or signs
- Accident reports including results of internal investigations
- Workers’ compensation claims
- Workplace audit results
Recommendations and findings of outside consultants.
IInterviewing and surveying workers and supervisors.
Step 3: Address the Right MSD Risk Factors
MSD hazard assessment isn’t one but a series of assessments, each of which focuses on a different set of MSD triggers, including:
The physical environment in which work is done, e.g., architectural, design, and work space layout, configuration of work stations, and even environmental factors like temperature.
Job-specific risk factors associated with certain tasks such as:
- Those involving lifting of heavy or bulky objects
- Twisting or bending
- Tight gripping, contact stress, awkward postures
- Continuous repetition and/or exposure to vibration or cold temperatures
Individual risk factors of workers, including:
- Age, sex, weight
- Physical condition
Step 4: Assess Severity of Hazards You Identify
Most organizations don’t have the resources to eliminate all MSD hazards from their workplaces. So, organizations must decide what, if anything, to do to control the hazards they find. Hazard assessment enables organizations to make these tough decisions by prioritizing hazards according to the degree of risk they pose. To do this evaluation, rank hazards by:
Severity, intensity, duration and frequency of exposure
- The complexity of the hazard’s cause(s)
- Whether technology and other solutions are available
- Cost and feasibility to implement
Step 5: Select Appropriate Engineering Controls
As with other hazards, the preferred approach is using engineering controls to eliminate or reduce MSD hazards. Such controls may include:
Mechanical measures that eliminate high MSD risk jobs, like use of mechanical devices for lifting or moving heavy objects (and patients in healthcare settings).
Adjusting chairs, work benches and other furnishings so the workspace fits the worker
Use of ergonomically designed tools, such as low vibration jackhammers or hand tools with handles that require less force to grip.
Ergonomically designed computer work stations.
Step 6: Implement Work/Administrative Controls
The next layer of prevention is the use of work or administrative controls, which affect how the work is actually carried out, including:
Safe work procedures for jobs involving high MSD risk.
Rotating workers in and out of high-risk tasks so exposure isn’t continuous.
Giving workers regular breaks to recover.
Step 7: Provide PPE & Other Protective Equipment
Appropriate PPE for MSD hazards may include:
Gloves to protect hands from injury, vibration, or cold.
Anti-fatigue mats to reduce musculoskeletal strain and fatigue that comes from standing or walking on hard surfaces for long periods.
Footwear with anti-fatigue insoles, a kind of anti-fatigue mat that’s inserted into the shoe, especially useful when working on hard surfaces that can’t be covered with mats.
Knee and elbow pads to minimize the stress and fatigue generated by contact with hard or sharp surfaces.
Wrist splints and braces to limit arm and wrist movements that can cause or aggravate an injury.
Wrist rests on computer keyboards and office workstations.
Step 8: Notify & Educate Workers about MSD Hazards
Workers exposed to MSD risks need the appropriate safety information and education about:
The specific MSD risks they face on their job.
What controls are in place to protect them from those hazards.
How to recognize MSD signs and symptoms.
What to do if they experience those signs and symptoms.
Step 9: Investigate Reported MSD Injuries
You also need to establish a clear procedure that workers can use to report MSDs and then be sure you follow up and investigate these reports.
Step 10: Review Your MSD Prevention Measures
How corrective measures you put in place are working and what, if any, changes need to be made.
New hazards you didn’t find or weren’t present during the original hazard assessment and what’s required to correct these hazards.
You should conduct a regular program review at least once a year and in response to triggering events like:
A rash of MSD symptoms or worker complaints.
Relocation of MSD-sensitive operations to different locations.
Other significant changes to MSD-sensitive operations or personnel.