Most workers know what Ergonomics is. Some will even say they know how to prevent MSDs. But most really don’t. Use this gameplan on how to communicate the importance of Workplace Ergonomics and MSDs to your employees to keep them safe on the job.
GET THEIR ATTENTION: Start out by telling workers that MSDs don’t end lives; they merely destroy them. MSDs are more severe than normal work injuries because they can:
- Disable you;
- Inflict horrible pain that lasts the rest of your life;
- Make it impossible for you to ever work again;
- Destroy your ability to do even simple things like walk, grip a steering wheel, brush your teeth, or hold a spoon.
MAKE IT REAL: Note that MSDs often lead to crushing poverty, depression and even suicide. Share some of the heartbreaking stories of real-life victims.
EXPLAIN WHAT MSDs ARE: Having set the tone, explain what MSDs actually are. Tell workers them that the things they do at work every day, like lifting objects, reaching up to stack an object and squeezing the handle of a tool, put a strain on muscles, nerves, bones, joints, back, shoulders and limbs. Working these body parts too hard or in the wrong way can cause serious damage and result in chronic back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, strains, sprains and other MSDs.
EXPLAIN HOW MSDs CAN HAPPEN: Explain that MSDs can be either traumatic or cumulative. Traumatic injuries happen in a single incident, like wrenching your back when lifting a heavy object; cumulative MSDs sneak up on you because they build up gradually as a result of repeated stress over a period of time, like back injuries from lifting heavy objects day after day for 10 years.
EXPLAIN THE RISKS OF MSDs: Tell workers that their risk of getting an MSD depends on 3 sets of risk factors:
1. General risk factors affect any and all people, including:
- Duration—how long exposure to a strain or stress last;
- Frequency—how often you’re exposed; and
- Intensity—how much the exposure strains your body while it lasts;
2. Job-related risk factors associated with performing certain jobs or tasks, including:
- Lifting and moving heavy or bulky objects;
- Reaching above, below or across your body;
- Prolonged squatting, kneeling or standing;
- Repetition—doing the same physical task over and over again over a consecutive period;
- Tightly gripping tools or other objects;
- Contact stress—tasks that involve physical contact with hard objects or edges
3. Individual risk factors are physical characteristics that can make a person less capable of withstanding strains and thus more vulnerable to MSDs, such as being:
- Over age 45;
- Out of shape;
- A smoker; or
- On certain kinds of medications.
EXPLAIN HOW YOU CONTROL MSD RISKS: Describe the measures your company uses to protect workers from MSD risks, including:
- Engineering controls like lifting devices, ergonomically designed tools or work stations, etc.;
- Administrative or work controls like safe work procedures such as for lifting heavy objects, rotating workers in and out of high risk tasks to prevent continuous exposure, regular rest and recovery breaks, etc.; and
- PPE and safety equipment like anti-vibration gloves or mats, wrist rests on computer keyboards, etc.
EXPLAIN THE WARNING SIGNS OF MSDs: Make sure workers recognize that MSDs can sneak up on them and describe the signs and symptoms they should look for, including:
- Aching in joints or muscles;
- Muscle weakness;
- Tingling or numbness in fingers, toes, hands or feet;
- Swelling, inflammation or redness;
- Stiffness or difficulty moving;
- Inability to use hands or wrists to do certain basic things;
- Burning sensation;
- Stabbing or shooting pain, especially at night; and
- Reduced grip strength
LET THEM KNOW WHAT TO DO IF THEY HAVE SYMPTOMS: Tell workers to immediately notify their supervisor or manager if they experience any of the above signs or symptoms. Explain that early diagnosis and treatment is crucial when dealing with MSDs and that waiting often makes the injury much worse. Reassure them that their complaints will be investigated and that they won’t suffer any kind of punishment or reprisal for bringing it.