In 2018, Liberty Mutual reported that overexertion injuries accounted for 23% of total injuries that year.  How cognizant are you of your bodily position throughout the work day? Better yet, how about your employees?

Ergonomic hazards could wreak havoc on a business, as well as prevent certain occupational health and safety programmatic goals from being achieved.  Ergonomics is the study of people at work, focusing on matching the job to the individual.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines ergonomics as, the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of workers, and designing and arranging items in the workplace for efficiency and safety. This is a different concept compared to the common approach of matching the individual to the job.  Resulting in the susceptibility of work-related injuries and diseases.

Exposing employees to ergonomic hazards may increase the risks of a work-related injury.  Hazards such as lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in an awkward bodily position; and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively. According to the CDC, awkward postures are a deviation from the natural or “neutral” position of a body part.

NIOSH defines work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) as those diseases and injuries that affect the musculoskeletal, peripheral nervous, and neurovascular systems that are caused by or aggravated by occupational exposure to ergonomics hazards.  In other words, work-related MSD are soft-tissue injuries caused by sudden or sustained exposure to repetitive motion, force, vibration, and awkward postures.  For reporting purposes, these types of injuries are categorized as overexertion injuries.  MSD can affect the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints and cartilage in the upper and lower limbs, neck and lower back.  The term MSD has been used interchangeably with cumulative trauma disorders (CTD) and repetitive strain injuries (RSI).

Never the less, CTD are generally used to describe disorders of upper extremities (e.g. hands, shoulders, neck).  They develop gradually over periods of weeks, months or even years as a result of repeated stresses on a particular body part.  Carpel tunnel syndrome is a commonly known example of CTD.  No one individual or business is immune to work-related MSD.

Any employee, in any business, in any industry can be at risk of ergonomics hazards.  A common misconception of ergonomics is that it is only applicable in the office setting.  The ergonomics fire triangle (force, frequency, posture) developed by Humantech, is a helpful tool to get us to think of ergonomics outside of the office setting.  When an employee’s posture is not in a neutral position, for a certain amount of time and how often that position is encountered (frequency), exerts forces on bodily limbs.  Therefore, this concept is applicable to any work or task completed.  The price paid for ignoring the presence of and correcting ergonomic hazards can be outrageously high.

According to Liberty Mutual, in 2018 the American economy spent $13.7 billion dollars in overexertion injuries.  How much did your business contribute to that amount?  The effects of ergonomic hazards on a workforce can be costly.  Some direct costs include an increase in worker’s compensation, insurance(s), and medical.  Not to mention, penalty fines issued from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or state authorities, as well as attorney fees.  Some indirect costs include the loss of productivity, training new or replacement employees, training and retaining employees, incident investigation and corrective action measures and follow-up, and a decline in employee morale.

Employee morale has more clout then we may recognize or like to admit.  When employees are sore from working in awkward positions for long periods of time, day in and day out, employee morale can severely plummet affecting productivity.  If employees have a good sense that their employer is truly looking out for them and their welfare, they may not be so quick to find another opportunity elsewhere.  Businesses could have a tough time competing and growing in the market, if their workforce is jumping ship to go work elsewhere.  Quality of productivity or services could also be impacted.  Which could be very disruptive to a business’ reputation and relationships with customers or clients. Especially if a customer or client had a negative encounter with a disgruntled employee.  Its no secret, when you feel good you are more productive.

Direct and indirect costs associated with ergonomic hazards can heavily impact the fate of a business.   To reduce costs, work with an occupational health and safety professional to identify and assess ergonomic risks throughout the organization.  Then, communicate and educate employees about ergonomic hazards, associated risks, and risk mitigation processes. We can conduct risk assessments to help you understand what risks your business is facing. We can also assist with mitigating those risks and provide ergonomics training to your team.  Let us help you avoid being catught in an awkward position.

Contact us for details.