Workplace injuries are a significant risk for any business. They can lead to lost productivity, costly medical bills and increased insurance premiums. While most businesses have protocols and programs in place to help reduce workplace accidents, but there is another type of workplace injury that may be just as costly as accidents, if not addressed. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are not injuries caused by accidents, but instead from job conditions or activities that lead to or contribute to these conditions. Workplace safety programs need to address more than accidents and must include programs that address WMSDs. So, what are WMSDs and how can employers prevent or mitigate their effects in the workplace?
What is a WMSD?
A musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) is an injury or disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage or spinal discs. Work-related MSDs are conditions in which the work environment and performance of work contribute significantly to the condition, and/or the condition is made worse or persists longer due to work conditions. Examples of workplace conditions that may lead to WMSDs are:
- routine lifting of heavy objects
- daily exposure to whole body vibration
- routine overhead work
- work with the neck in a chronic flexion position (head bent forward)
- performing repetitive forceful tasks
Examples of MSDs are sprains, tears, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis and hernia. MSDs are associated with high costs to employers such as absenteeism and lost productivity, as well as increased health care, disability and workers’ compensation costs. In addition, many of these conditions are or can become chronic, further escalating the costs to employers, and requiring permanent modified duties, vocational rehabilitation, or even permanent disability.
Workplace Prevention and Mitigation Strategies
There are a variety of strategies employers can implement to reduce WMSDs in their workplace. They may not all make sense for your business, but you may wish to consider some of the following ideas to help minimize the impact of WMSDs and prevent them altogether.
- Examine your workplace and look for ways to reduce the chance of injury. For example, you may be able to change the way materials, parts and products are transported in order to relieve burden on employees.
- Consider altering the layout of workstations to be more ergonomic.
- Promote healthy lifestyles, including physical activity and weight management. Improving physical health and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce pain for individuals with arthritis and back problems and can help employees prevent these and other MSDs.
- Provide training to management and workers regarding risks for workplace injuries, including:
- Training on how to reduce and avoid injuries
- Training to help management and workers recognize potential workplace risks for MSDs and mitigate those risks
- Raising awareness of WMSDs among employees and management, as well as educating employees to recognize a potential injury and know when to seek medical evaluation
- Make administrative changes as they make sense in your workplace to reduce the risk of injuries. These may include reducing shift length, limiting overtime, scheduling more breaks for rest and recovery, and rotating workers through jobs that are physically taxing and instituting pre-shift stretching sessions.
- Develop policies that support a corporate culture of good health, safety and injury management, such as:
- Required use of personal protective equipment (PPE), plus training on its proper use
- Ergonomic workplace initiatives
- Workplace safety programs
- Disability management policies
- Return-to-work programs
- Encourage early reporting of WMSDs by employees, and prompt evaluation by health care providers. Many workplaces stress early reporting for injuries, but employees may understand that to mean only sudden injuries, like accidents, slips and falls. Even though WMSDs occur over time, employees should still report them and get evaluated early—employee education can help promote this practice in your workplace. Early intervention and treatment may prevent worsening symptoms and more costly and prolonged treatment.
- Educate employees on workers’ compensation and disability benefits, including protections and accommodations offered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
For assistance in developing workplace safety and injury programs, including those that address WMSDs, contact one of our business insurance specialists at Roper Insurance today.