Musculoskeletal injuries and disorders are among the most common ailments in today’s workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2002 they accounted for 487,900, or 34%, of the injuries and illnesses that resulted in days away from work. In addition to back injuries, musculosketal disorders like Repetitive Strain Injuries such as Carpel Tunnel Syndrome are now rampant in the computerized office.
The remarkable thing about these disorders is that we now know what causes many of them and how to prevent them. The risk factors for work-related musculoskeletal disorders are work postures and movements, repetitiveness and pace of work, force of movements, vibration, and cold temperatures.
Work postures and movements can cause discomfort and fatigue if maintained for long periods of time. Activities like standing for long periods of time can cause sore feet, general muscular fatigue, and low back pain. If you have to stand or sit for extended periods at your job, make sure that you do some warm up exercises before you begin, and actively change positions throughout the day.
Repetitive movements are hazardous because we use the same joints and muscle groups over a long period of time. Using computer keyboards for long periods of time can cause serious damage to arm and finger muscles and tendons. If you perform repetitive tasks in your job, try finding ways to vary the routine. Take short breaks or timeouts. Make sure you have the proper equipment and ergonomically correct furniture.
Force of movements refers to the amount of effort our bodies must use to lift objects. The weight of objects and manner in which we lift things can cause low back strain, even ruptured discs and hernias. If you lift heavy objects, learn how to bend, stoop and lift correctly. Even if you only lift one heavy box a year, learn how to do it safely.
Vibration might encourage musculoskeletal disorders because they affect muscles, tendons, joints and nerves. Think of the ultimate vibrating job, a jackhammer operator, and you get the picture of what damage vibrations may cause. If your job entails operating vibrating equipment, you should wear a set of insulated headphones. Make sure that you have the right gloves and shoes, as well. Also, make sure you know the acceptable operating time for your equipment, and never exceed that limit.
Cold temperatures or handling cold objects can cause numbing which may make us misjudge the amount of force we need to apply, and may cause our bodies to become less flexible. When that happens our positions and movements become awkward and stiff which can lead to more problems. If you work in a cold place, make sure that you dress appropriately and warmly. Wear proper gloves and clothing that allows for flexibility.
You can avoid the pain and crippling effects of musculoskeletal injuries and disorders in the workplace. Be informed. Be prepared. Be safe.