Tailor Jobs to Fit Employees

Most of us are familiar with those nagging injuries that just won’t go away. Maybe it’s a dull throb in our wrists or a slight pain in our lower back. It’s usually not serious enough to keep us from doing the things we want to do, so we don’t seek treatment.

Sometimes, those nagging injuries can be the warning signs of serious, job-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs include injuries to muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs.

MSDs are cumulative, so it often takes many years for the first serious symptoms to appear. By the time they do, your employee may have done extensive damage. What started out as a minor ache or pain can erode into a debilitating injury.

If you follow these tips, you can help your employees steer clear of MSDs and the costly claims that often accompany them.

Identify the risks
The risk factors associated with MSDs are common among most industries. They include repetitive movements, heavy lifting, bending, climbing, reaching, twisting, exposure to vibrations, and awkward body positions. Whether your employees work in an office, an oil field, or on a construction site, they are susceptible to MSDs.

Start by gathering some basic information. Review your accident records, looking for injury trends among specific job tasks, departments and workstations. Employee input should be an integral part of the information-gathering process. After all, they know their workstations and job tasks better than anyone.

Next, conduct an ergonomic analysis of each job task. Watch employees work, and look for possible risk factors. Consider videotaping the process or taking photographs to create a visual record.

Start employees off on the right foot
Once you have identified the risks, teach employees how to avoid them before you let them start working. During their first day on the job, discuss symptoms of MSDs, such as decreased range of motion, swelling, redness and cramping. Review occupational risk factors and methods of identifying and controlling hazards. One effective teaching tool is to demonstrate the safest way to grip a tool, lift a heavy load, use personal protective equipment, and perform other job-specific tasks.

New employees and employees who have been off the job for an extended period may need time to adapt and build their strength. Provide designated rest periods to allow tired muscles to recover.

If possible, hire extra help to make up for increased production quotas and times when you are short-staffed. Regularly rotate employees among different job tasks to reduce the strain on specific muscle groups.

Make workstations adjustable
People come in all shapes and sizes. A good ergonomic program accounts for those differences by fitting the job to the employee.

Design workstations to allow employees to do their job from a variety of positions using safe postures. Every employee should be able to walk up to a workstation, make a few quick adjustments, and work comfortably and productively.

For example, an adjustable work surface allows employees to bring work to waist level, without bending. An additional light can reduce eye strain. An ergonomic keyboard can relieve strain on the wrists.

Encourage early reporting
Encourage your employees to tell their supervisors immediately if they experience symptoms of MSDs. The sooner employees get treatment, the sooner they can recover and get back on the job.

Early reporting also carries potential monetary benefits for employers. A report issued by the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) showed a strong correlation between when a claim is reported and the cost of the claim.

According to one study quoted in the IAIABC report, a claim filed five or more days after the injury costs an average of 15 percent more for medical and income benefits than a similar claim filed within 48 hours of the injury. Early reporting of nerve-related disorders can save an average of 20 percent on medical and lost-time costs, according to the study.

Get more information
Texas Mutual’s safety resource center is a practical resource for employers who want to improve their safety programs. Visit it to get free safety training material, calculate your incidence rate, and read the latest safety hot topics.

Other resources include specific voluntary ergonomic guidelines for industries such as nursing homes, retail grocery stores, and poultry processing. You can get more information about the guidelines on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration website at osha.gov.


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