It’s time again for Spotlight On Safety, where every month we like to discuss ways to focus on safety in the workplace. We’ve written before on this blog about the risk of workplace injury from external hazards such as falling objects, obstructions that can cause slips, trips and falls, and the dangers posed by robotics and machines.
This week, however, we’re going to explore the dangers of musculoskeletal disorders, and how ergonomics, or safe and efficient practices tailored to a specific job or work environment, can help prevent them.
What is a musculoskeletal disorder? According to the CDC, a musculoskeletal disorder, or more specifically a workplace musculoskeletal disorder, is an injury or disorder to the muscle, nerves, tendon, joints, or spinal discs, specifically when work environment or performance contribute to the condition.
Some common musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, include Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, back injuries and back pain, tendinitis, and arthritis. As with any possible workplace hazards, the best course of action with MSDs is prevention. You can protect yourself and your employees from these injuries by taking several steps.
MECHANICAL AND MANAGERIAL INTERVENTION
It is a common misconception that the only way to sustain a back injury is by carrying a load that is too heavy. In fact, it is just as common, if not more so, to injure one’s back from the repetitive lifting of smaller items, as well as continuous twisting and bending.
As such, it is advisable in shipping and warehouse environments for companies to provide mechanical aid to their employees, such as a workstation crane or hoist. No one should lift more than they are able. Even if a load is not necessarily too heavy, the repetitive motion and strain of constantly lifting and moving it in the same direction can cause undue strain on a person’s muscles. This can be prevented with simple mechanical intervention.
Another step you can take to protect your employees’ spines is to break up schedules with shorter shifts, or to rotate stations so that no one is working in a location where they are repeating one motion for an extended period.
Since your staff will have to carry loads from time to time, make sure that they are well trained on ergonomics and how it applies to their workspace, specifically proper safe lifting and carrying techniques (e.g. how to properly lift without from the knees and not the back, how to grab a box without straining your muscles, etc.).
ERGONOMICS IS FOR EVERYONE
Because of the physically demanding nature of their jobs, warehouse and manufacturing employees are the first workers who come to mind when we think of musculoskeletal disorders, but ergonomics are necessary for everyone, including office workers.
Sitting behind a desk, or lately, sitting in a home office, at your kitchen counter, or (let’s be honest) on your couch for nearly eight hours a day, takes a toll on the body. Especially in a COVID world, where you might not be getting up to go visit a co-worker’s desk or make a quick copy like you would in normal times, people aren’t moving around nearly as much as they normally would. Ergonomics, therefore, are more paramount than ever before.
Whether you’re back in the office or setting up your work-from-home space, you need to make sure your work area is both comfortable and efficient. A few simple adjustments can make all the difference and keep you from causing yourself real strain. The Mayo Clinic recommends keeping your computer monitor at arm’s length, your wrists straight, and your hands at or below elbow level. They also suggest that you adjust your chair height so that your knees are just level with your hips. When it comes to chairs, you should find one that hugs your spinal curves.
Musculoskeletal disorders might not be as dramatic as external hazards and injuries like slips, trips, and falls, but they certainly make as big of an impact. Make sure your workplace is following good ergonomic practices to keep your employees safe!