Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace can be costly to businesses and pose significant health issues for employees. MSDs typically occur when ergonomic working conditions are poor. To improve ergonomics, start by developing a thorough strategy. You’ll want to consider how to assist workers that are subject to heavy lifting, reaching overhead, pushing or pulling heavy loads, conducting repetitive tasks, etc. Key strategies should include the introduction of ergonomic equipment while also implementing communication and education.
The statistics related to MSDs are difficult to ignore. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these types of injuries account for one third of away from work cases. Ergonomic related injuries require more time off work than other types of workplace injuries (eleven days vs. eight days). And the annual economic burden of workplace MSDs is estimated to be $45 to $54 billion. Problems typically happen unexpectedly and so it’s a good idea to have a plan in place that helps ensure issues don’t occur in the first place. Here are some guidelines for developing a plan.
Commit to Making a Change
Implementing a plan that reduces ergonomic related injuries will require a true commitment to change. If MSDs are an issue, or if you think they could become an issue down the line, then steps should be taken to ensure a safer work environment. This may require a financial investment in ergonomic equipment and solutions may need to take priority over production goals. Workplace injuries can be very costly to businesses and so long term savings associated with safer operating environments can be significant.
Identify Risk Factors
Conduct a thorough analysis of each relevant employees risk of injury as they move throughout their workday. It’s not just heavy lifting that can lead to workplace injury. Repetitive motion causes wear on muscles and joints over time. You’ll also want to consider any task that involves forceful vibrations, awkward posture, and constant sitting or standing.
Ergonomic and safety equipment can help aid workplace tasks that have the potential to cause injury. A wide range of equipment is available. Height adjustable lifts move workstations and desks up and down to allow for a change in body position throughout the day. Electric walkie tuggers push and pull heavy loads. Ergonomic lifts and manipulators aid lifting and moving heavy and/or awkward objects. And self-leveling carts bring objects to safe heights.
Other safety measures include cushioned floor mats for those that stand or kneel frequently, and ergonomically designed chairs for those sitting for long periods. The surrounding environment can also play a role. Lighting, temperature and humidity can all effect ergonomic health. Screen glare from bright lighting and cold temperatures can lead to MSDs.
Addressing Varying Needs
Specific needs will vary per employee, even for those performing the same task. Conduct a thorough review of how each employee interacts with his or her workstation and environment. If employees are different heights, for example, ensure that the ergonomic equipment can adjust accordingly.
Communication and Education Plan
Institute a policy of free and clear communication between employees and management. Encourage workers to be vocal about any strain or stress issues they have as they move about their day. And ask for suggestions on improvements that could be made. Make workers aware of the risks associated with lifting, repetitive motion, and other hazards. And when ergonomic equipment is in place, make sure to implement ongoing training to ensure employees understand how to use the equipment effectively.
Putting a safety plan in place will require time and some capital investment, however the benefits should far outweigh these expenditures. Ergonomic improvements eliminate significant costs by reducing workman’s comp, time off, and retraining expenses. Worker productivity will increase as employees become more comfortable and better able to perform their tasks. And employees will be safer.
In summary, the best way to reduce ergonomic related injuries is to implement a plan and follow it long term. Ergonomic equipment, such as lifts and manipulators, height adjustable lifts and self-leveling carts will provide the support your employees need to perform their job safely and effectively.