A musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) refers to damage of muscular or skeletal system which is usually due to a strenuous activity. MSD’s affects the muscles, tendons, and nerves predominantly in the upper extremities such as the neck and the back. It can result in pinched nerve; herniated disc; meniscus tear; sprains, strains, tears; hernia (traumatic and non-traumatic); pain, swelling, and numbness.
The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that MSD injuries accounted for 33 percent of all injury and illness cases in 2013. Laborers including construction workers, freight handlers, warehouse workers, and material movers incurred the highest number of MSD cases in 2013. These workers have high risk factors due to bending, lifting heavy items, reaching overhead, and pushing and pulling loads. They are also at risk for repetitive motion injuries.
To reduce the chance of injury an employer should consider introducing efficiencies in to the workplace:
- Make changes to the physical environment. Modify existing equipment by purchasing machinery or tools that are more ergonomic and more efficient. The cost to do this can often be less than the cost of injury which can include down time, worker time-loss, and turnover.
- Review Work Practices. Review work processes and procedures to ensure they are efficient and safe. Involve people working on the front lines in the process review as they are usually a great resource on what’s working and what isn’t and they know best, safest and most efficient way to complete a task. You can also create a Safety Committee and task them with reviewing processes, implementing improvement, and enforcement.
- Provide Training and more training! Create awareness through training which is a great best practice for any business. Provide training and refresher training on how to properly lift and most important how to assess a load to determine when it’s appropriate to use mechanical equipment. Training can be formal or as simple as a quick review during a safety meeting.
The bottom line is that employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their workers. There are a few key things employers can do to substantially reduce or prevent the number and severity of MSDs resulting from physical overexertion, as well as their associated costs.
OSHA: Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace
OSHA Training: Courses, Materials, and Resources
Simple Solutions – Ergonomics for Construction Workers
Strains, Sprains, and Material Handling Safety Tips
Ergonomics and Construction – The Smart Move
Laborers’ Health & Safety
Written By: Christina Ide, CCP, SPHR. Christina is the Director of Human Resources at North Coast Electric and has her SPHR, Senior Professional in Human Resources Certification, through HRCI.