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Reducing Workplace Injuries | Ergonomics to the Rescue

Each year, employers spend billions – yes, billions of dollars resolving issues related to overexertion injuries. In fact, these claims have been repeatedly identified as the leading cause of disabling workplace injuries in the United States. What’s more important, however, is that many of these injuries can be prevented through the application of a few ergonomic analysis tools.

These methods can help employers make simple changes to better accommodate their workforce. This is especially important for the aging population (workers who are 55 years of age and older) which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, will comprise 25% of the workforce by 2020. We know that your employees are your most valuable asset, so here are a few resources that can help prevent unnecessary (and costly) workplace injuries.

Workplace Injuries

Tailor the Workspace
An office setting might seem like an unlikely place for a workplace injury to occur. However, when it comes to overexertion and workplace injuries, sitting at a desk for long periods of time can be as hazardous as working on a production floor or loading dock. Office employees who experience neck, shoulder and arm pain show lower productivity, greater absenteeism and higher turnover. Often the cause of the pain is due to a mismatch between the employee’s height and the position of their desk and / or computer monitor. This can cause the employee to shrug their shoulders over the desk, crane their neck to view the monitor and excessively reach to access the keyboard and mouse.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to match the desk height with an employee’s stature through a process called “link analysis.” This can be done before a new hire’s first day on the job. Link analysis takes into account the segments (or links) in a person’s body (i.e., shoulder to elbow joint, elbow to floor height, elbow to eye height, etc.) and ensures they are all proportionate to an individual’s overall height. Using this analysis, employers can determine comfortable heights for an employee’s desk, keyboard, seat and monitor, all based on how tall they are. Employers can use adjustable desks, chairs and monitors and add keyboard drawers to tailor desk spaces to meet individual needs. Minor adjustments in chair fit and pointers for keyboard / mouse use are also encouraged. Performing this analysis before a new employee begins work can help prevent bad habits and potential injuries down the road.

Set Safe Limits
Hand and wrist disorders from forceful or repetitive work are another common cause of overexertion injuries in the workplace. There are now several ergonomic assessment tools that can help employers structure jobs so that hand and wrist strain aren’t present to begin with. The maximum effort prediction calculation, for example, looks at the repetition and duration of an exertion in a task and uses those values to calculate the maximum amount of exertion (usually pinch, grip or wrist strength) allowable before a soft tissue injury would likely occur. Using this data, a job involving repetitive tasks could be designed to limit the maximum amount of exertion determined safe for both men and women.

Back injuries are also extremely common. They often occur when manually lifting and handling various materials. Employers are encouraged to use what are commonly referenced as “Snook Tables” (named after one of the researchers who helped establish these tables in the early 1990s). These tables can help predict the amount of weight that can be handled by males and females in tasks involving lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing and pulling. This information can then be used to help design manual material handling jobs to match various employees’ physical capabilities.

Protect Your Staff and Your Balance Sheet
Taking precautionary steps (such as the ones previously referenced) can help protect the well-being of your employees, as well as your company’s bottom line. While it’s impossible to prevent all workplace injuries that are due to overexertion, the creative use of predictive ergonomic tools can help your company design jobs to fit the physical capacities of the workers you depend on. These cost-effective techniques can be a sound investment in the health of your workforce and your company’s financial security. For more information regarding these assessment tools, contact the Ergonomic and Loss Control Specialists on our Claims and Safety Team.

This article originally appeared in the 2017 | ISSUE TWO of the SilverLink magazine, under the title “Ergonomics to the Rescue | Improving Your Bottom Line by Reducing Workplace Injuries.” To receive a complimentary subscription to the SilverLink magazine, sign up here.

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