Failure to address ergonomic risk factors can be a costly oversight

Every year thousands of workers are affected by ergonomic risk factors that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and other types of injuries and illnesses. Since there is no federal Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) standard for ergonomics, many employers overlook the importance of this discipline that costs billions of dollars per year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), MSDs accounted for 34 percent of all injury and illness cases in 2012. More specifically, there were 388,060 MSDs in all sectors (private, state and local government) with an incidence rate of 38 cases per 10,000 full-time workers. MSD-related median days away from work increased by one day to a median of 12 days compared to 2011. Injuries and illnesses resulting from repetitive motion involving microtasks resulted in workers taking a median of 23 days away from work to recuperate – 14 more days than what workers took for all events or exposures in 2011.

MSDs involving the back accounted for 41 percent of the total MSD cases. Shoulder injuries were the most severe, accounting for 14 percent of all MSD injuries. It’s also important to note that ergonomic risk factors exist in all types of industries. For example, six completely different occupations accounted for more than 25 percent of MSD cases. Laborer and freight, stock and material movers had the highest number of MSD cases in 2012 with an incidence rate of 164 per 10,000 full-time workers, up from 140 in 2011. In the healthcare industry, nursing assistants and nurses are among the most vulnerable populations.

With ergonomic related injuries affecting such a wide range of workers, how can employees reduce these injuries?

Implementing an ergonomic process is one method that has been effective in a plethora of industries. Some basic elements of this process provided by OSHA include:

  • management Support
  • employee involvement
  • training
  • identifying hazards/problems
  • encouraging early reporting
  • controls
  • process evaluation

Training is pivotal for employees to improve their knowledge of ergonomic risk factors and interventions. Training should be used to ensure employees can recognize hazards that could lead to MSDs and become active participants in reducing exposure risks. Whether ergonomic interventions are relatively minor or completely change the way a job is done, the goal is to reduce potential hazards that can result in MSDs that take a serious financial and human toll.

To learn more, please join me and my expert guest, David Alexander, president of Auburn Engineers, on March 4 for a complimentary webinar on the Economics of Ergonomics.