Ergonomics and Injury Prevention

Ergonomics and Injury Prevention

emile wakim

Sep 8, 2010

Ergonomics and Injury Prevention

Ergonomics refers to the layout and design of a workplace where productivity may be maximized through the reduction of a workers fatigue and discomfort. Avoiding a loss in production, as well as the sizable costs associated with injury due to poor ergonomic planning, the design layout as well as furniture and working environment is vital to both the employer and the employee.

When it comes to preventable ergonomic injuries the figures are nothing short of staggering. U.S.  employers are paying more than $15 billion in workers compensation claims each year for these specific types of injuries. Considering ergonomic injuries make up a full third of all claims, and the number of lost work days reach well over 750,000 the cost of lost worker productivity and turnover can only be significantly improved with proper training & prevention.

The good news is that the majority of all ergonomic workplace injuries are indeed preventable. This means a company may be saved not only a sizable degree of costs, but it can also save on precious work time.

When we look at what ergonomic injuries are presented most often we can note that carpal tunnel syndrome, back injuries and tendonitis rank as the most common occurring in the workplace. These are classed as MSD's or musculoskeletal disorders or CTD's cumulative trauma disorders. What this means is they are injuries that are associated with the nerves, muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage and joints as well as spinal discs.

It is true that many workplace accidents can result from equipment being improperly placed within the workplace, as well as the assignment of a particular job or task that is not suitable for the worker or, indeed the worker not suitable for the specific job. Many times when this sort of improper pairing of a job or task and a workers capacity occurs, musculoskeletal and cumulative trauma disorders can ensue.

These types of injuries are not only costly for the employer, but the worker can find the costs of treatment and rehabilitation from an complaint such as this overwhelming. When we look at the figures for back pain, it is estimated that it will be experienced by as many as 80% of the US population at some point. One can quickly understand why it is the most common reason for missed work based on those figures. However, the leading cause for lost work time in the US  is carpal tunnel syndrome. It is estimated that almost half of these cases incur more than 30 days of work lost due to this injury.

Some of the risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing a musculoskeletal disorder can include (but are not limited to);

  • Repetitive motion
  • Forceful exertion (stretching or reaching for a heavy item)
  • Awkward posture (neck bent or wrists bent at an awkward angle)
  • Static posture (standing in the same position or sitting without changing position for lengths of time)
  • Mechanical pressure (having to lean against edges that are particularly hard)
  • Heavy lifting

So what can be done? Thankfully, the adage; "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" rings as true today as it did back in the 1700's when Benjamin Franklin muttered those same words. By endorsing a prevention-conscious environment amongst employers and workers, the stressors that add to the repetitive strain and the musculoskeletal injuries can be greatly reduced. For example; the vast majority of workers and employers will agree and consider that an ergonomic work station is just as vital as correct lifting procedures.

By implementing a culture that supports and encourages workers to find ways that may reduce the stressors in their work surroundings, may allow them to acknowledge the signs and symptoms of a problem and discern as to when it is acceptable to promote active and passive types of self therapy. These actions may then be used to help remove the underlying cause of the issue. For example; introducing a policy whereby workers that operate mainly via phone must use a headset, or allowing those that are computer based to utilize wrist supports all the way through to enabling cross training of assembly workers so that they may rotate to different stations in the effort to curb repetitive movement that they would otherwise endure.

When a worker recognizes the initial signs and symptoms of an injury, they should have clear and defined steps that may be taken in order to prevent expensive workers' compensation claims. By removing the culture of "I'm fine, the pain will probably go away" a company may be able to prevent its bottom line and productivity being compromised through injury.

There are indeed key components that make up a successful ergonomic program within a company. Some of these would be;

  • A written ergonomics policy with an annual plan for risk reduction
  • Roles and responsibilities clearly outlined and identified
  • Communication of the current ergonomic plan to management
  • Skill based training concentrating on awareness for employees and supervisors
  • Commitment to implementation and budget for engineering a solution to workplace ergonomic solutions

No longer is the bottom line trade off between safety and efficiency acceptable with companies. Many are waking up to the relationship between safe work environments and improved efficiency and productivity levels. Certainly, there is a large market of ergonomically designed furniture and tools on the market, but ergonomics is more than just the that. It embraces the culture of best practice within the work place, and the design of the workplace on a whole as well as the safety culture is what drives efficiency and productivity.

The typical profile of many workplace injuries is that an ergonomic plan is generally sought to be implemented post injury. Many employers only seem to value the concept of an ergonomically safe work environment after an injury has occurred in the hopes that it may prevent any further injuries from occurring. Whilst the future prevention will obviously become a priority, one would think that it should always have been.

If you are a business leader and concerned with productivity and bottom line, then implementing a well structured injury prevention strategy aimed directly at the ergonomic issues of your work environment can swiftly halt the potential of profitability being drained from your business.

About the Author

Dr. Emile Wakim specializes in arthroscopy of all extremity joints, minimally invasive surgical techniques (including total knee arthroplasty), general hand & foot injuries, and orthopedic trauma. Dr. Wakim also has QME, AME, & IME qualifications and experience treating within the worker’s compensation system. Dr. Emile Wakim graduated with his undergraduate degree Cum Laude from the University of San Diego. He then went on to attend Creighton University School of Medicine, in Omaha Nebraska. Dr. Wakim performed his internship at Truman Medical Center/UMKC and his Orthopedics Surgery residency at the renowned Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Pacifica Orthopedics offers unique and comprehensive medical care specializing in general orthopedics, spine, hand & foot surgery, neurology, pain management, rehabilitation medicine, sports medicine, and life & sport coaching.

Contact Details

Dr. Emile P. Wakim, MD

Orthopedic Surgeon, QME

Huntington Beach (Main Office)

18800 Delaware Street, Suite 1100

Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Phone: 714.841.5333

[email protected]