In workplaces all over the world, employers and workers alike are struggling against the ongoing threat of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and its related effects. MSDs are among the most costly of physical afflictions for employers, placing a heavy burden on budgets and forcing employees out of work to deal with care and recovery. It’s a pervasive issue that won’t be fixed by any single strategy.
That’s why at DORN, we’re committed to delivering holistic, multifaceted solutions for the MSD problem, helping employers target risk factors to prevent injuries and treat the physical causes that contribute to lost time and high workers’ compensation costs. On August 22 at the ErgoExpo in Las Vegas, DORN President and CEO Kevin Lombardo will speak at a focus session on the topic of using ergonomics to create a Total Worker HealthTM package for employee safety and wellness. The session will feature Mr. Lombardo’s perspective, drawn from decades of experience in leading organizations to improve workplace safety and reduce workers’ compensation costs, along with talks from Shashikiran Mysur, Ergonomics Progam Manager at Textron Aviation, and Bill Pace, President at Cardinus.
Please join us at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas in Champagne Room 2, August 22nd at 2:15pm as we break down the strategies, cost savings, and productivity benefits of an ergonomics program targeted at eliminating MSDs and reducing medication usage among workers.
Read on to discover how companies are employing ergonomics to tackle their MSD problems in today’s economic landscape.
The Cost of Musculoskeletal Disorders to Employers
Musculoskeletal disorders and injuries incur a host of costs for employers, both human and financial. To start, MSDs imply monetary costs that rank among the worst of all injury categories, accounting for a third (33%) of all workers’ compensation costs in the United States. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has compiled data indicating that MSDs cost employers some $20 billion per year in direct costs, with indirect costs that can skyrocket into the hundreds of billions when you factor in lost productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism, and decreased morale among workers. The problem affects a significant portion of the workforce, too; according to OSHA, about 2 million employees suffer MSD-related afflictions each year, and 600,000 lose time at work as a direct result of those injuries.
The Causes of MSDs, In Brief
As with any non-specific category of injury, the causes of MSDs can be wide-ranging and pervasive throughout the work environment. In some cases, risk appears at virtually every phase of the job, from the workstation to the larger environment to the specific tasks and behaviors that employees utilize every day to do their jobs effectively.
The work environment is certainly a major factor in how employees are injured. Estimates suggest that around 20 percent of missed workdays occur as a result of poor workplace design. Examples can be as complex as factory environments that require workers to reach high overhead or bend down repeatedly to accomplish their tasks, or as simple as an uncomfortable desk chair or poorly designed tools.
At the heart of most MSD injuries lay three major factors: awkward posture, high force, and exposure time, which refers either to prolonged periods of exertion or frequent repetition of a task. Oftentimes, a worker experiences two or even three of these risk factors at once, which compounds their risk of MSD injury. Awkward postures involve positions that take the body out of its natural alignment, a neutral state that allows a worker to exert force without placing harmful strain on tendons, ligaments, and joints. For example, injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome are more likely when a worker performs a task repeatedly that requires them to bend their wrist, hand, or fingers in an uncomfortable or unnatural way.
Overexertion is also a very common issue for workplaces, especially in factory or other production settings. When a job task requires a great deal of force or strength to complete, the risk of MSD injury tends to increase. Heavy lifting is among the most common factors here, as even a small slip in lifting technique can cause an injury such as a slipped or herniated disc in the back. Low back pain alone costs over $100 billion to employers each year. However, the back injury example is effective in teaching us how integrating ergonomics into just one part of the process can completely change a worker’s ability to perform their tasks, encouraging better health and reducing injuries.
Integrating Ergonomics Holistically
Any program that effectively tackles the MSD problem must be armed with a thorough understanding of how the workplace and its staff function on a day-to-day basis. Organizations should look to ergonomics experts for a review and assessment of the work environment and its workers themselves. This will not only equip you with an understanding of how your workplace contributes to MSD risk—it will also provide analysis of the workforce itself so that you can better understand your employees and their bodies, as each worker brings unique traits to the job that entail specific risks based on their own strengths and weaknesses.
Evaluate the Body
Workers are individuals and shouldn’t be evaluated as one monolithic whole. Instead, you should utilize on-site monitoring and analysis to help you understand the unique health needs of your staff.
Workers should be evaluated according to their individual traits such as age, strength, and experience. This will illuminate specific opportunities for ergonomic integration that will have a measurable impact on your organization’s health. For instance, older workers face their own challenges, and their workstations should be adapted to account for reductions in strength and flexibility. Ergonomically designed tools can help support workers and ensure that their health is taken into account in the job design process. Likewise, departmental stretching programs can facilitate healthy joints and muscles so that the worker’s body is better prepared for their tasks.
Train Good Behaviors
Ergonomics is also about teaching employees the best practices for accomplishing their work. This is where task repetition and posture come into play, and training is a vital tool for instilling good habits. This is another case where in-person coaching can be a vital tool—the ability to observe and correct problematic behaviors with an ergonomic perspective can help prevent injuries before they occur. For instance, a real-time observer could catch an employee bending forward to lift a heavy object and encourage them to maintain an upright back posture while bending their knees to lift. In today’s economy, more and more organizations are conducting ergonomic awareness training for their workers on the job floor. This helps them identify dangerous behaviors on their own, as well as risks that management may need to address, such as poor workstation design.
Facilitate a Healthy Environment
Environment comes down to two factors: physical safety and cultural attitudes. An ergonomic review can isolate hazards that can lead to MSDs, including workstations that require excessive reaching, awkward stretching, or uncomfortable postures that lead to injury.
Ultimately, a strong ergonomics program comes down to engagement and understanding between management and employees. Change must start at the top, and ergonomics must be a priority for administrators if workers are ever to accept these practices and integrate them into their routines into their daily work lives. Still, employees should be involved not only in the assessment but through training. Through that cooperation, organizations can foster a healthy workforce, a culture that values safety and wellness, and employees who trust their management and care about their own health and productivity.
Conduct Ergonomic Assessments
An essential tool for establishing a safe work environment, a basic ergonomic assessment can deliver expert feedback on the conditions in your workplace that may affect worker health. Careful observation by trained ergonomic professionals can help identify risk at all levels of the enterprise, from the work environment and workstation design to best practices for completing tasks and even individual worker health factors. MSDs and repetitive motion disorders (RMDs) are common targets of an ergonomic assessment and can be mitigated with a proactive strategy. By evaluating the required tasks at a work site and analyzing the specific abilities of your workers, an ergonomic assessment can identify hazards and problematic behaviors and provide an organizational roadmap toward better health and overall wellness.
While ergonomics represent just one part of the ongoing fight for safety and wellness among workers, they are more than just a tool. A proactive ergonomics approach can actually inform the entirety of a holistic wellness program, facilitating a healthy and safe workplace in which injuries are much less common, chronic pain is reduced, and costs are dramatically lower. In fact, companies that invest in ergonomic solutions have found the programs to pay for themselves, delivering a 600% return on investment per year. Between the cost benefits and the human advantages of a healthy workforce, competitive enterprises simply can’t afford to ignore this essential part of a holistic health plan.