Specialized industries often come with greater or unique injury risks for the workers who power them, especially when their work involves high levels of exertion, large equipment, and skilled movement. For manufacturers in the aerospace industry, having an effective injury prevention program can mean the difference between potentially staggering workers’ comp costs and a healthy bottom line. That’s why aerospace companies tend to invest in innovative ergonomic solutions to protect their employees and keep operations running smoothly—especially important in today’s world, where the spotlight on space travel, aviation, and defense has never been brighter.
In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed the birth of commercial space travel as enterprises such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin have publicized their growing interest in making what once seemed a dream into reality. As those programs grow and evolve, they’ll rely on aerospace manufacturers to provide the intelligence and manpower needed to build aircraft, storage facilities, equipment, facilities, and more.
Most common injury risks for aerospace workers
Unfortunately, the injury risks associated with the aerospace industry can be substantial and costly. Research suggests that some 77% of workers in the aerospace and aviation manufacturing areas experience musculoskeletal injuries, most commonly to the lower back. Other body parts that are frequently affected include the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Across the nation, work-related MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) account for up to $55 billion in costs each year—and that’s before you factor in the costs associated with other injury-related factors like fatigue and chronic pain, the latter of which costs employers over $635 billion per year.
Other hazards are more specific to the aerospace industry, especially those stemming from large or heavy equipment and tools that require skill to use safely, such as welding or painting equipment. Injuries from falling objects are not uncommon, and workers often need to crouch in small spaces while performing high-exertion tasks such as pulling, pushing, or lifting.
Workers in the aerospace industry also deal with relatively higher levels of stress on a regular basis due to the detail-intensive and strenuous nature of their tasks. When a single mistake can lead to loss of life, standards in the aerospace industry are incredibly high. For employees, that can translate into mental stress, leading to fatigue and distracted work—two elements that significantly raise the risk of injury.
Case Study: One Aerospace Manufacturer’s Successful Injury Prevention Program
One of DORN’s client organizations—a major aerospace manufacturer—was struggling to curb injury rates caused by ergonomic risk factors and other hazards endemic to the industry, and sought support with reducing MSD rates and implementing ergonomic solutions. Before DORN’s interventions, the company reported an average cost per claim of $45,000 including both direct and indirect factors. They also reported spending nearly $500,000 per year on MSD-related costs across all employees. Like many employers in their industry, the company reported the most common areas of injury were the neck and shoulders, as well as hand and wrist injuries stemming in part from the use of specialized equipment.
To mitigate their injury risks and reduce both human and financial costs, the company partnered with DORN to implement ergonomic solutions as part of a holistic injury prevention program guided by the Total Worker Health approach as defined by NIOSH (National Institutes of Occupational Health and Safety). The services implemented included:
- Hands-on manual therapy to relieve pain and target the source of discomfort
- Ergonomic assessments of workstations, departments, and manufacturing areas
- Advanced training to improve industrial athlete fitness
- Pre-shift mobility and conditioning programs
- Workstation adjustments to eliminate or reduce equipment-related injury risks
- Job demand analysis to identify opportunities for administrative controls
The results were overwhelmingly positive. Over four years, 2,500 individual sessions, and 400 total participating employees, the injury prevention program yielded immediate improvements in overall employee wellness and morale as well as dramatic reductions in costs. Some notable results include:
- 70.5% decrease in high pain levels after 4-6 sessions on average
- 81% overall improvement in pain levels
- ROI of $5 for every dollar invested
- Total savings of over $1 million
The U.S. Department of Defense Understands Injury Prevention
In recent years, major entities have picked up on the importance of holistic injury prevention. The US Department of Defense (DoD) is among the largest organizations to implement similar programming that includes some of the elements provided by DORN for our aerospace client. Understanding how essential its staff’s health and safety is to the department’s overall goals, the DoD launched a robust injury prevention program that reduced lost work days by 41%, curbing the high costs associated with injuries and generating a significant overall improvement in productivity among its workforce.
Using Total Worker Health to Build an Aerospace Injury Prevention Program
The Total Worker Health framework developed by NIOSH provides a clear roadmap for enterprises to develop effective injury prevention strategies that account for the worker’s entire experience, both on and off the job. With this approach in mind, aerospace manufacturers should craft a safety plan with three core objectives:
1) Address hazards in the work environment
Whether through elimination, engineering controls, or increased observation and monitoring, it’s essential for employers to thoroughly understand how their employees interact with their workspaces and equipment. Ergonomic solutions such as assessments can help safety leaders identify hazards specific to the aerospace industry, such as potentially dangerous equipment or confined spaces.
2) Ensure employees know and understand proper mechanics and best practices
Supporting overall worker wellness is a key to successfully preventing injuries, and this task begins in the workplace. Ergonomic programming can help employees understand the science behind their movements and techniques. Employers should also consider consistent training to reinforce body mechanics and posture, which can help prevent pain and discomfort and mitigate the risk of fatigue.
3) Provide on-site support for employee wellness and safety
The most effective injury prevention programs for aerospace manufacturers include an in-person element aimed at alleviating pain and discomfort while targeting employees’ health risk factors. An on-site specialist or provider can analyze your workforce at the individual level and design pain relief programming that addresses each worker’s needs. Hands-on pain relief therapy can also target underlying causes of pain, spurring overall improvements in pain levels, morale, and productivity. Having an on-site resource for employees also demonstrates the employer’s commitment to safety and wellness, an essential ingredient for any injury prevention strategy.
To learn more about the Total Worker Health framework for injury prevention, download our white paper on the topic here.
Recently, DORN hosted a webinar featuring Nan Bangs, Executive Director of EH&S at Collins Aerospace, who spoke about how to engage front-line team members and inspire employees to take ownership in the process of wellness.
Though workers in aerospace, defense, and aviation manufacturing face risks that are unique to their industries, employers can rest easy with a holistic injury prevention program based on Total Worker Health principles. Contact DORN today to learn how our ergonomic solutions and pain relief therapies can help your workforce.