Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) - ergonomic injuries affecting the connective tissues of the body such as muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage or spinal disks - account for about 30% of all workplace injuries.
These disorders, like repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are rampant in offices across the country. Anyone who uses a computer for long periods is at risk.
Back injuries are some of the most common MSDs as well, and anybody can fall victim to one by using improper lifting techniques.
Fortunately, we now know how to prevent many of these injuries. The main risk factors for work-related MSDs are:
Work postures and movements - These can cause fatigue and discomfort if maintained for long periods. Activities like standing for extended periods can cause sore feet, general muscular fatigue, and low-back pain.
If you have employees who have to stand or sit for extended periods at your job, ask them to do some warm-up exercises before they start working, and to actively change positions throughout the day.
Repetitive movements - Using the same joints and muscle groups over a long period can cause repetitive motion injuries. Think about someone on an assembly line doing the same thing again and again.
Also, using computer keyboards for long periods can cause damage to arm and finger muscles and tendons. If you have staff who perform repetitive tasks, even on keyboards, try finding ways to vary the routine.
Require that they take short breaks or timeouts. Make sure you have the proper equipment and ergonomically correct furniture.
Force of movements - This refers to the amount of effort your employees must use to lift objects. The weight of objects and how they are lifted can cause low-back strains, even ruptured discs and hernias.
If you have workers lifting heavy objects, train them in how to lift the items properly. You should train all of your workers, even those who do not lift as part of their jobs. One improper lift can lead to injury if performed improperly.
Vibration - Vibrating machinery can cause MSDs because it affects muscles, tendons, joints, and nerves.
Think of the ultimate vibrating job, a jackhammer operator, and you get the picture of what damage vibrations may cause. If you have jobs that entail operating vibrating equipment, your workers should wear a set of insulated headphones.
Make sure that they wear the correct gloves, shoes, and other protective equipment as well. Train your workers in the appropriate operating time limits for the equipment they use, and to never exceed that limit.
Cold temperatures - Working in the cold or handling cold objects can cause numbing, which may make workers misjudge the amount of force thee need to apply and may cause their bodies to become less flexible. When that happens, their positions and movements become awkward and stiff, which can lead to more problems.
If you have employees working in the cold, require them to dress for the conditions so they can stay warm. They should wear gloves and clothing that do not constrict movement.
MSDs are expensive to treat, as they can involve surgery or lots of physical therapy, all of which is costly. Take preventive steps to avoid musculoskeletal injuries and disorders in the workplace.
That requires training in how to use equipment properly as well as the need to change positions, take regular breaks, and do exercise that can help muscles that are being overused.