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Workplace Health and Safety

What to Do About the Ergonomics Issue

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 1 in 3 workers’ compensation claims that result in paid time off are related to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health classifies MSDs as soft-tissue injuries caused by sudden or sustained exposure to repetitive motion, force, vibration, and awkward positions. 

In the United States and Canada, the CDC reports that more people are unable to work due to MSDs than any other group of diseases. So, what do MSDs have to do with ergonomics? 

Ergonomics is the science of matching the workplace conditions and job duties to the worker. MSDs happen when ergonomic programs are nonexistent or ineffective at protecting workers from harm.

Effective ergonomic programs counteract the potential of MSDs by addressing risk factors such as awkward postures, overhead work, wrist deviations, stress of loads on the body, poor shoulder/wrist posture, etc. 

Not what you imagine

When thinking of an office worker, we often imagine a person sitting in front of a computer all day while only getting up from their work station to grab a cup of coffee or use the restroom. We do not think about these workers lifting 50-pound boxes of copy machine paper, or positioning their wrists and necks in unnatural positions for extended periods of time, or sitting so long it hurts to stand up, or engaging in repetitive motion activities that add up to tens of thousands of keystrokes every day, or “one-off” jobs like helping someone move that overstuffed four-drawer filing cabinet. 

The price of not thinking about and addressing these scenarios is billions of dollars in annual worker compensation direct costs to industry.

Building a safer office

Re-thinking office ergonomics is the first step in designing and implementing an effectively engineered health and safety management system. Unmitigated office hazards have real consequences that cause real injuries and illnesses. So what can employers do about it? 

For starters, they can hire or contract a health and safety professional, and implement a comprehensive health and safety management system, like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), which offers employers the framework for effective injury prevention. OSHA’s VPP management system has four major elements:

  1. Management leadership and employee involvement
  2. Worksite analysis
  3. Hazard prevention and control
  4. Safety and health training

Addressing the ergonomic risks within a formal health and safety management system is the key to protecting every worker everywhere against preventable MSDs. You can take that to the bank instead of the emergency room.

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