In 1996, more than 647,000 American workers experienced serious injuries due to overexertion or repetitive motion on the job. These work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) account for 34 percent of lost workday injuries. MSDs cost employers an estimated $15 to $20 billion in workers' compensation costs in 1995 and $45 to $60 billion more in indirect costs.
Sysco Food Services of Houston, Texas had serious ergonomic problems when OSHA inspected the company. In 1996, Sysco had 210 injuries with 3,638 lost workdays. Back injuries accounted for 40 percent of the injuries and more than half the cost. An OSHA inspector issued Sysco a citation and $7,000 fine for failing to protect its employees from ergonomic hazards and set out an abatement plan for the company to follow.
Today, after implementing a formal ergonomics program under the direction of Sandra Carson, an occupational health nurse, Sysco's injury compensation costs have fallen by almost 75 percent and major back injuries have dropped from 76 a year to 21.
Ms. Carson says the $7,000 penalty "was one of the best investments the company has made." Along with the citation, Ms. Carson says Sysco "received an analysis of our problem jobs as well as alternative controls to consider." The health and safety improvements have made Ms. Carson's branch one of Sysco's most profitable.
Musculoskeletal disorders include a group of conditions that involve the nerves, tendons, muscles, and supporting structures such as intervertebral discs. They represent a wide range of disorders, which can differ in severity from mild periodic symptoms to severe chronic and debilitating conditions. Examples include carpal tunnel syndrome, tenosynovitis, tension neck syndrome, and low back pain.
Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders are caused or made worse by the work environment. MSDs can cause severe and debilitating symptoms such as:
MSDs are often confused with ergonomics. Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of workers.
In other words, MSDs are the problem and ergonomics is a solution.
Risk factors for MSDs include;
Jobs or working conditions that combine risk factors will increase the risk for musculoskeletal problems. The level of risk depends on how long a worker is exposed to these conditions, how often they are exposed, and the level of exposure.
MSDs of any cause are among the most prevalent medical problems. In 2008, sprain and strain injuries accounted for 39% of total injury and illness cases requiring days away from work. Soreness and pain (including the back) accounted for 11% of the total cases.
When looking specifically at work-related MSDs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports MSD’s accounted for 29% of all workplace injuries and illnesses requiring time away from work in 2008. 45 percent of sprains and strains were the result of overexertion. Also, in 40% of these cases, the back was injured. In another 25% of the cases, a lower extremity (such as the knee or ankle) was injured.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is the only federal agency mandated to conduct research and train professionals to identify and prevent workplace hazards. The Institute is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NIOSH conducts and funds a substantial amount of research on musculoskeletal disorders, currently a total of 80 projects on work-related MSD-related topics. A directory of all these projects has been published by NIOSH (DHHS [NIOSH] Publication No. 97-109). For more information on work-related MSDs or on other workplace safety and health issues call: 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).
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