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Friday, March 18, 2016

Everyday Handling of Materials in the Workplace Causes Large Number of Workplace Injuries

Why are manual material-handling injuries so common in the workplace?

We are all aware of the disastrous workplace accidents that are widely covered by the media -- cranes that fall, scaffolds that tip, gas explosions, mining catastrophes. But what about the everyday occurrences that cause so many workers serious injuries? Many people, often office workers as well as those who work in construction or other jobs that involve climbing or heavy lifting, suffer severe, debilitating injuries in the workplace daily. These accidents, however, do not make the headlines.

Numbers Don't Lie

According to an occupational health and safety research study by SHARP research group, work-related claims of musculoskeletal disorders serious enough to warrant lost work time and/or disability benefits accounted for 21 percent of total state-funded claims from 2009 to 2013.

The reported injuries of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) were all related to overexertion and/or repetitive motion. These statistics mean that a more than one in every five claims during a recent five-year period resulted not from unavoidable colossal accidents but from ordinary day-to-day work-related activities.

Both employers and employees should pay attention to these statistics because a great many of these injuries are avoidable with some foresight and planning. Not only do these injuries mean pain and suffering to those who get hurt; they also mean expenditures and loss of work time to management and workers alike.

The Most Common Injuries and Their Causes

The most common WMSD injuries reported by workers were injuries to the back, neck and shoulders, resulting in about 2/3 of the manual material handling claims. The most prevalent cause of injury, cited by a full quarter of the workers, was handling a container. Where particular actions were reported as causative:

  • Lifting accounted for 55 percent
  • Holding, carrying, turning, and wielding accounted for 17 percent
  • Pushing and pulling accounted for 14 percent

Rick Goggins, an ergonomist with the Washington State Dept. of Labor and Industries (DOSH), states that "Lifting is by far the biggest issue when it comes to WMSDs or ‘sprains and strains’ in the workplace." He points out that while heavy lifting is an obvious risk, awkward lifts, such as those involving bending over or reaching to lift heavy objects, are also dangerous.

Possible Solutions

Goggins does not feel that training alone is helpful in preventing lifting injuries. He points out that even though many companies have implemented training programs designed to keep employees safe, these programs have not been particularly effective. He also notes that the best-trained professionals in the field of body mechanics, physical therapists, frequently injure themselves when they lift patients.

 Nonetheless, Goggins has several proposals to lower rates of WMSD injuries, including:

  • Storing things to be lifted at waist height, rather than on the floor
  • Coming up with engineering solutions so that equipment, not people, do the lifting
  • Increasing  training relative to manual lifting and equipment use
  • Encouraging workers to be alert and aware when they are lifting
  • Developing ergonomic processes with employee input about hazards and possible solutions
  • Teaching employees not to rely on ineffective solutions, such as back braces

Since U.S. businesses spend $62 billion per year as a result of workplace injuries, this is a topic to be taken very seriously. If you have been seriously injured at the workplace, get medical assistance as soon as possible and then contact a competent workplace attorney who can help you get the compensation you deserve.

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