Reduce MSDs: Avoid these 5 Ergonomic Mistakes

iStock_000012977779XSmallAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 28.8 percent of all nonfatal, lost-time occupational injury and illness cases in 2010, a four percent increase over the previous year.

Lost-time injuries related to sprains, strains, and tears accounted for 40 percent of the total cases while back injuries resulted in 11 percent of the cases. Overexertion played a role in 43 percent of these injuries, according to the BLS. The body parts that were reported to be most commonly injured were the back (36%), shoulder (12%), and lower extremities such as groin, knees and ankles (26%).

The cost of musculoskeletal injuries can run into tens of thousands of dollars and is the primary reason most companies strive to improve ergonomics in the workplace. (Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a program designed to heal MSDs in theworkplace?) Many companies are not seeing the results they anticipated due to these five ergonomic mistakes.

Mistake #1: Choose the Wrong Safety Metrics
The Injury and Illness Rate (IIR) became the de facto safety metric for many firms because it is a mandatory recordkeeping requirement for OSHA. And while it is a useful metric, it fails to get at the root cause of ergonomic injuries. The IIR looks at ergonomic injuries after they occur, whereas a successful ergonomic program uses leading indicators(instead of lagging indicators), quantitative ergonomic risk assessment tools, and biophysical markers to prevent injuries from occurring at all.

Mistake #2: Safety Program Slow to Evolve
A rigid safety program that is slow to evolve to changes in personnel and processes leave companies at risk for an ergonomic injury. Successful ergonomic programs are part of a continuous improvement process whether through quality management or a lean manufacturing system. An ergonomic assessment should be undertaken when people or processes change.

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Mistake #3: Ignore Workplace Design
Companies that ignore workplace design not only expose themselves to ergonomic injuries but to production inefficiencies. A well-planned workplace design will help reduce MSDs as well as eliminate waste, and improve quality, worker engagement, productivity, and throughput. Ergonomic risk assessment tools are critical to efficient workplace design.

Mistake #4: Take an Unbalanced Approach
Effective ergonomic programs strike a balance between qualitative and quantitative data when deciding on a course of action. Qualitative information offers decision-makers the opportunity to study worker behavior while quantitative assessments offer data that tells them whether a worker is physically fit for the position. A consistent, balanced approach to ergonomic issues is best.

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Mistake #5: Fail to Follow Up
Too many companies analyze ergonomic assessments; make changes to the workplace, and then fail to conduct periodic follow up to ensure they are experiencing the desired results. For many, another ergonomic injury sends the message that the changes were not effective. Periodic biophysical testing of workers can spot potential problems before they turn into injuries.

“The InjuryFree team was really able to provide some additional value for us around the risk reduction. Helping us identify where the hazards were from an ergonomic perspective and offering solutions to eliminate that risk or reduce it to an acceptable level was another key part. It’s just good to be able to have a supplier partner that aligns with our values and our beliefs. This is about prevention.” – Mike Tuck, Safety Platform Leader, Kimberly-Clark Professional

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