Lifting Your Profits Without Hurting Your Back

Reducing Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace

This article has been supplied by Brad Matthews of Winning Safety.  Winning Safety uses a process that goes beyond simply observing behaviour. It is designed to encourage “active listening” and promote safety leadership especially by managers in the workplace. Brad believes that with the proper framework, an organisation can use safety as a mechanism to meet production and profitability objectives and develop a culture of openness and trust.

Manual tasks contribute to injuries affecting all parts of the body, particularly the back, shoulder and wrist. These are commonly called musculoskeletal disorders and account for more than half of the following:

  • cost of workers’ compensation claims
  • number of days lost from work
  • work absences over six months.

According to data collected by the Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC), performing some manual tasks can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s) which can lead to death, injury or disease.

Between July 1997 and June 2003, injuries caused by manual tasks at work resulted in;

  • 437,852 compensation claims in Australia, or 
  • 41.6 % of all compensation claims during that period, 
  • a direct cost not counting indirect impacts (including long-term impacts on the quality of life of the injured worker) of $11.965 billion.
  • an estimated 11.6 million lost working days a year.

A staggering 38% of musculoskeletal disorders relate to back injury and an additional 27% of MSD’s relate to shoulder, hand, wrist and finger injury through carrying out manual tasks.

As an employer, you are responsible for preventing work related injuries or disorders (MSD’s) caused by manual tasks.

MSD’s are a priority risk to your business costs;

  • they affect large numbers of people across most job roles
  • they have the potential to ruin people’s lives 
  • they impose heavy costs on your business and on society.

Key points to remember about MSDs :

  • you can do things to prevent or minimise MSDs
  • prevention measures are cost effective 
  • you cannot prevent all MSDs, so early reporting of symptoms, proper treatment and suitable rehabilitation is essential. 

What are the Risk Factors?

Risk factors causing MSDs can be found in virtually every workplace from commerce to construction.

Manual Handling and MSDsAreas that can create a risk:

  • repetitive and heavy lifting
  • bending and twisting
  • repeating an action too frequently
  • uncomfortable working position
  • exerting too much force
  • working too long without breaks
  • adverse working environment (e.g. hot, cold)
  • psychosocial factors (e.g. high job demands, time pressures and lack of control)
  • not receiving and acting upon reports of symptoms quick enough

Remember that the greater the number of risk factors you are exposed to, the higher your risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders.

The longer your exposure, the higher your risk.

Managing the Risk

Risk management for manual tasks involves a 3 step process aimed at preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Major stages in the risk management process include:

1. Risk identification: Identify the problem jobs/tasks which are likely to, or have caused injury.

2. Risk assessment: Investigate the problem jobs/tasks, determine the risk factors and evaluate them, assess their importance, and look for their causes.

3. Risk control: Decide on solutions, trial and implement them, and check later to see the changes are working.

Key Points:

  • You can do things to prevent or minimise MSDs
  • Prevention measures are cost effective
  • Early Reporting is essential

Developing a Risk Management Strategy

Planning is critical to make sure controls for reducing risks in the workplace are implemented.

Successful programs aimed at reducing musculoskeletal disorders have five essential elements.

1. Safety Leadership.
2. Training.
3. Risk Management.
4. Rehabilitation.
5. Evaluation.
1. Safety Leadership
The most effective solution to reducing safety and health hazards is a combination of Management leadership and worker involvement.

In order to control and reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the management of the organisation must be committed to the program both financially and personally. The commitment includes listening to and acting on feedback given by the workers.

Employees take their cue and motivation from the management’s actions and responses to their feedback. Without employee commitment the return on a program investment will not be fully realised.

2. Training
Training provides the basis for consistent awareness, identification, analysis, targeting and control of musculoskeletal disorders hazards.

3. Risk Management
Management and workers must be aware of risk factors and hazards of their jobs and in their work environment that lead to musculoskeletal disorders.

Careful evaluation of the workplace identifies risk factors and hazards; including the use of checklists and registers to help document all observations.

Once the risk factors, hazards and injuries are identified and recorded, the OHS personnel, in collaboration with management, contractors and workers, have the facts to assess the risks and develop solutions, e.g., improve site housekeeping through the alteration of material delivery schedule, use self-raising platforms or buddy system for lifting, etc.

4. Rehabilitation
Effective injury management relies on the cooperative efforts of all participants – employers, workers, insurers, doctors and other health practitioners.

The longer a worker is away from work the less likely they will return. Replacement of a skilled person is expensive or, at times, difficult to impossible.

It is a benefit to the individual and employer to bring the injured worker back to alternate or reassigned duties as soon as medically appropriate. This may mean re-skilling or providing additional training.

Your Risk management strategy should outline how this is going to be addressed.

5. Program Evaluation
Evaluating the effectiveness of a program is just as important as implementing the program.

  • Is your program reducing musculoskeletal disorders, hazards and risks? 
  • Does an initial upsurge in musculoskeletal disorders reporting mean your workplace became less safe because of the program?
  • Does this upsurge mean that a hidden population of injured workers has received treatment and will be returned to a healthier level of productivity and lifestyle?
  • Have you successfully identified and targeted your MSD hazards?

Program evaluation is vital to validating your required outcomes and obligations.

For more information regarding this article or Workplace Health & Safety advice or training, please contact Brad Matthews on 0423 902 477, via email at brad [at] winningsafety [dot] com or visit Winning Safety

Thank you Brad. 🙂

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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