Across North America, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs):
Have the highest lost-time claim costs of any injury;
Lead all injuries in number of lost-time work days; and
Account for between 20¢ and 60¢ of every $1.00 of total workers’ comp claims.
Yeah, But Can You Name Them?
These statistics are all very impressive, especially if you’re a safety coordinator trying to build a business case for MSD prevention. The problem is that they’re just that—statistics. Numbers can never do justice to the human costs of work injuries. And while that’s true of all injuries, the coldness of the numbers really comes into play when you’re dealing with a nonfatal hazard like MSDs.
After all, MSDs don’t actually kill people. All they do is inflict career- and life-destroying pain and misery that makes victims wish they were dead. So while you’ll need the metrics to document ROI, you can add human emotion to your business case for MSD prevention investment by recounting the stories of real-life victims.
Better yet, you can let the victims tell their own stories in their own words. Here are 5 such personal victim accounts to get you started. You may also want to share these accounts with your supervisors so that they can use them to humanize their ergonomics training and demonstrate to workers that MSDs are flesh-and-blood real.
MEET: PHIL RITTER
My name is Phil Ritter. My story begins when I was a 26-year-old site coordinator at a construction site where I often operated jackhammers.
One day, I noticed a tingling at the very tip of my fingers like the stabbing of needles. The pain grew worse and worse. I couldn’t sleep, hold a newspaper or a fork. I had to drive my truck open handed to get a grip on the wheel. I was taking 22 aspirin a day.
I was diagnosed with RSI (repetitive stress injury) and carpal tunnel syndrome. I had to have surgery. It was a long recovery. I couldn’t even put my socks on for the first 3 weeks.
But I turned out to be luckier than most. Six months later, I went back to work and learned how to protect myself from MSDs. I learned to relax the hands so as not to grip the tools too hard, to protect myself from vibration, and so on.
And I learned something else. There is a safe way. Victims of MSDs are too often told that it’s all in their mind. This is not true. My advice to the workers out there is to learn the safe way and to ask somebody if they’re not sure.
MEET: JOE BAKER (as described by his widow, Desi)
My name is Desi Baker, and this is the story of my beloved, now-deceased, husband, Joe, who died at age 45.
Joe was a wonderful man, husband, father and sportsman. He was a hard worker, and helped to raise his stepdaughter and stepson. He worked for 25 years as a welder and machinist. Two decades of lifting and bending heavy steel wore out two discs in Joe’s back. Joe was in constant pain and became deeply depressed. He couldn’t sleep, fish, or eat. He was 6’ 2” but weighed just 135 lbs. He slept 1 or 2 hours a night in the garage.
Things took a turn for the worse when workers’ comp denied Joe’s treatment; that and the constant pain eventually drove Joe to shoot himself. After Joe’s suicide, I lost my husband and best friend.
MEET: GARY WOODFORD
My name is Gary Woodford. I’m 49. I worked for 26 years for C&S Propellers assembling and installing propellers on military and civilian aircraft. My job required me to lift propeller assemblies that weighed over 100 pounds.
One day, I was lifting a propeller assembly dome, weighing 150 pounds, for a C 130 military plane into place so I could install it. I felt a sharp pain in my back and had to stop. I called my co-worker for help. I had injured 2 discs, which were pressing on my spinal cord.
My life hasn’t been the same since. I can’t hike, camp, run or do anything active.
Access more profiles on SafeSupervisor.com that you can use to illustrate the real world impact of MSDs to your employees.