The Most Common Workplace Injuries: Musculoskeletal Disorders

When you hear the phrase workplace hazards, your mind is normally drawn to images of heavy equipment accidents, falls from heights, or exposure to dangerous chemicals. Rarely do people think immediately of ergonomic-related hazards that may cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). It’s a surprising disconnect, because according to the WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board), MSDs are the most common type of workplace injury.  Identification of hazards in the workplace that has the potential to cause an MSD is a key component of an effective health and safety program.

The Three Most Common MSDs:

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel is numbing, tingling, and weakness, and other problems in the hand and grip. Repetitive wrist motions and pressure on the median nerve in the wrist generally cause it. Poor ergonomic job design is a major contributing factor, especially jobs that require the wrist to be bent downward.

Signs and Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Pain in fingers, but not pinky finger
  • Pain in arm between wrist and elbow

Relieving Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

  • Stop activities that cause pain
  • Take frequent or longer breaks
  • Ice your wrist
  • Speak to you doctor about anti-inflammatories
  • Speak to your physiotherapist about the use of a splint or support
  • Have an ergonomic assessment of your workstation completed, and use proper postures according to the results

Tendonitis

Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon. It is also known as or referred to as tennis elbow or runner’s knee. Tendons are the strong, flexible yet inelastic, fibrous collagens that connect muscles to bones. Tendonitis results from overuse of the tendon.

Signs and Symptoms of Tendonitis

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • The affected area may be hot and red
  • A lump may develop in the affected area
  • You may feel cracking or grating as the tendon moves

Relieving Tendonitis

  • Rest
  • Apply heat or ice to the affected area
  • Contact a physiotherapist about rehabilitation
  • Speak to your doctor about the use of a mild painkiller
  • Have an ergonomic assessment of your workstation completed, and use proper postures according to the results

Bursitis

Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa, which is the fluid-filled sac located between tissues, such as bones, muscles, tendons, and skin. Repetitive motions, particularly motions that are not ergonomically designed for the job, cause bursitis. Bursitis affects the elbow, hip, knee, shoulder, and Achilles tendon.

Signs and Symptoms of Bursitis

  • Pain
  • Loss of motion

Relieving Bursitis

  • Ice the affected area
  • Avoid activities that aggravate the injury
  • Have an ergonomic assessment of your workstation completed, and use proper postures according to the results
  • Stretch before starting strenuous work
  • If your work involves lifting or using force, gradually build toward goal productivity, as it reduces the chance of developing bursitis

Employer Responsibilities

Under the Ontario Health and Safety Act, Sections 25(2)(h), employers are expected to take reasonable precautions to protect worker safety — and that means protecting them from ergonomic hazards.

There are many risk hazard assessment tools designed specifically to assess the ergonomic risks in a variety of workplace settings and industries. It is advisable to complete risks assessments, and then place controls based on the findings. Controls include, but are not limited to:

  • Redesigning the workspace for more efficient movements
  • Using better tools and/or tools designed for the job
  • Improving work processes
  • Implementing and scheduling sufficient rest breaks
  • Implementing a job rotation strategy to avoid having workers complete too many repetitive motions
  • Training workers on ergonomic hazard identification and controls

There are many risk hazard assessment tools designed specifically to assess the ergonomic risks in a variety of workplace settings and industries. It is advisable to complete risks assessments, and then place controls based on the findings. Controls include, but are not limited to:

  • Redesigning the workspace for more efficient movements
  • Using better tools and/or tools designed for the job
  • Improving work processes
  • Implementing and scheduling sufficient rest breaks
  • Implementing a job rotation strategy to avoid having workers complete too many repetitive motions
  • Training workers on ergonomic hazard identification and controls

Ultimately, employers lose 2.5 million days of production time from employees due to MSDs. Ensuring that ergonomics and MSD prevention is part of your health and safety program will result in better productivity from workers, fewer lost-time days and dollars, and an overall more efficient, effective, and happy work environment. You simply can’t afford NOT to address ergonomic hazards in your workplace!

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator


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