Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are a significant cause of workplace injury and ill health, costing employers thousands of dollars in workers’ compensation costs. MSDs may incur up to five times more indirect costs than direct costs in compensation. These disorders cause workers to suffer from strained muscles, nerves, discs, and blood vessels. Individuals suffering from this condition can be affected for years or even for the rest of their lives. An MSD prevention strategy must begin with an understanding of what MSDs are and what causes them. When you are aware of these risks, you can put your resources to good use in preventing MSDs.
What are Musculoskeletal Disorders?
An injury at work can range from isolated to chronic incidents. Musculoskeletal disorders can be debilitating when not treated properly for long-term workers. These disorders can cause cumulative trauma diseases (CTDs), which are long-term injuries induced by repetitive movements. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) refer to injuries or illnesses caused by unusual positions, repeated motion, or overexertion, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. An example of an MSD is a soft-tissue injury such as a sprain, strain, tear, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Slip and fall accidents and other similar incidents are not considered MSDs.
MSDs are associated with the following conditions
- Carpel tunnel syndrome
- Pinched nerves
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Trigger Finger
- Muscle strains and low back injuries
What are the Factors in Musculoskeletal Disorders
Experiencing MSD risk factors causes fatigue in workers. The more fatigue there is, the more likely the chance of developing a musculoskeletal disorder. There are two types of risk factors, work-related and individual-related.
Workers who are exposed to these certain workplace factors are at a higher chance of MSD. Repetitive work, intense exertion, and repeated/persistent abnormal postures exhaust the worker’s body beyond its ability to recover, leading to musculoskeletal imbalances and, ultimately, musculoskeletal disorders.
High task repetition
A lot of job activities are repetitive, usually governed by hourly or daily production goals. High task repetition, when combined with other factors, such as excessive force and uncomfortable postures, may contribute to MSD development.
The human body must deal with large force loads in many different job duties. High force requirements increase muscle effort, resulting in fatigue and muscle damage.
Repetitive or poor postures
Uncomfortable postures cause undue strain on joints, overworking the muscles and tendons around these joints. The muscles of the body work best when they are in the middle of their range of motion. The likelihood of MSD increases when workers are using the same joints r for an extended period of time without enough recovery time.
Employee-Related Risk Factors
MSDs can also develop due to poor practices by employees. Lack of technique, inadequate rest and recovery, and an unhealthy diet and fitness regimen can result in fatigue and overexertion of the body’s recuperation system. These factors include:
Poor work practices
Poor body mechanics and lifting practices can introduce unnecessary possibilities that contribute to MSDs. Due to inadequate techniques, workers’ bodies are further stressed, leading to an increased level of exhaustion and a diminished ability to recuperate.
Lack of rest and recovery
Workers experience musculoskeletal imbalances due to exhaustion that overwhelms their recovery systems. People who don’t get enough rest and recovery may increase the chance of developing serious health problems.
There are many workers who are weak that even climbing one flight of stairs makes them breathless. Musculoskeletal diseases can be caused by individuals who smoke, drink excessively, are overweight, or engage in various other unhealthy activities. They may also develop chronic conditions, which will reduce their health and life expectancy. When workers do not take care of their bodies, they are more likely to develop musculoskeletal and chronic health issues.
Development and Implementation of Workplace Controls to Prevent MSDs
To prevent the development of MSDs, employers can take steps to assess potential workplace issues and make changes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a comprehensive strategy to make the workplace a safer environment for all employees.
You can reduce fatigue and the likelihood of MSDs among all workers by lowering excessive force requirements. It is best to create job tasks around the workers’ natural abilities and restrictions.
These limitations can include:
- Mechanical assistive systems to ease the physical stress of heavy lifting
- New packaging that includes handles or slotted handholes to reduce handling
- Adjustable workbenches
- Accessible tools and materials within reach
- Utilize diverging conveyors to prevent job repetition
- Diverters on conveyors so that workers do not need to lean or reach excessively
- Tool redesign to enable neutral postures
Workplace policy and practice changes
If engineering controls are not feasible or cannot be applied right away, changing your workplace regulations may be a temporary solution. These workplace regulations and procedures can be used to lessen the chances of workplace injuries:
- Reduction in shift length and overtime
- New schedule of rest and recovery breaks
- Rotation of workers for physically demanding responsibilities
- The use of “floaters” during scheduled breaks
- Proper usage of pneumatic and electric tools
PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
Workers usually wear PPE to create a barrier between themselves and a hazard. PPE includes respiratory protection, ear plugs, safety goggles, and hard hats. You can protect workers from harsh surfaces by using padding. Additionally, good-fitting thermal gloves will help keep them warm while retaining their ability to grasp objects.
Implementation of Ergonomics at Work
An ergonomic program in the workplace addresses MSD hazards using safety and health principles. Instead of looking at this as a one-off project, it needs to be incorporated into the daily responsibilities of every worker from leadership to shift workers. Your ergonomic program can include the following elements:
Management must support processes that are designed to be ergonomic. The ergonomic process should begin with management setting specific goals and objectives. Managers should discuss new ergonomic procedures with employees, delegate them to specific employees, and communicate openly with the workforce.
Ergonomics training should be taught in a language that everyone can understand so everyone gets the message. Trainers who are knowledgeable about the ergonomics of your particular industry are ideal. For instance, workers can understand proper lifting techniques to prevent strain and back injuries. They also know how to properly use machines and tools. You may even introduce rest and recovery methods such as warm-up stretches and cool-down poses after strenuous work. This ensures that workers know about ergonomics and its benefits and are aware of ergonomic issues in their line of work. They also understand how essential it is to report potential workplace hazards leading to MSDs, so they can be fixed. Reporting symptoms of MSDs early can assist with job assessment and improvement, preventing the development of serious injuries, which leads to lost-time claims.
Consistent Reviews of Your Ergonomics Program
To keep ergonomic processes running smoothly for the long haul, an established evaluation and corrective action method need to be in place. As ergonomic processes develop, it is critical to assess whether the goals of ergonomic processes have been met and if the implemented solutions have been successful.
Maintain a Safe Workplace
Workplace safety needs to be taken seriously, and ensuring good ergonomics is part of that. Risk can be minimized through the use of proper engineering controls, new workplace policies and personal protective equipment. Employees must always work safely by using sound judgment and ergonomic practices to avoid potential hazards. The more you change your workplace to make it a safer place, the lesser the risk for injury.