September 25, 2023
Muscular injuries: How to combat common ergonomic challenges
By Mike Fetting, CIEE, Loss Prevention Specialist
While injuries commonly occur when lifting or moving is involved, implementing a program that focuses on proper ergonomics can greatly reduce incidents.
Challenges with larger muscle groups (primarily the back and shoulders) are often easier to identify and control than those associated with repetitive motion risk factors.
Back and shoulder strains can be caused by moving something that is too heavy or repeatedly handling something that is slightly heavy but in an awkward position (overhead, near ground level, or while twisting).
Establish a program to prevent back injuries
A safe lifting/back injury prevention program includes the following elements:
- A designated coordinator
- Workforce training
- Identification of high-risk tasks
- Implementation of controls
- Early intervention
Consider creating an ergonomics safety committee to maintain focus on ergonomic challenges and improvements, if you don’t have one already. SFM’s Safety Committee webpage is an excellent resource for creating a committee. This team is ideally comprised of members with basic ergonomic awareness training (possibly some with advanced training in ergonomic evaluations). Together, the team can explore ergonomic interventions such as job rotation, stretching, and wellness activities. Ergonomic experts and guests can also be helpful when a professional evaluation is needed.
Use the following approaches to reduce the chance of injuries:
Engineering is the most effective intervention. Manipulators and robots are more expensive solutions, but can quickly pay for themselves if even a few severe injuries are avoided. There are also other simpler, less-expensive controls that can be implemented:
- Raising items off the floor — Some items just need a stand to be stored on
- Adding a hoist — There are devices to grab almost any shape (hooks, straps, clamps, magnets, or vacuum heads)
The tasks should alternate between light and heavy work.
Safe lifting training
Two key messages to remember are “keep your head up” (this forces you to use your knees and keep your back straight) and “shuffle your feet to turn – don’t twist.”
Stretching and flexing
While not considered as effective as engineering or job rotation, these exercises can warm the muscles up and get them ready for work.
Intervene early and be proactive
Early intervention can keep nagging soreness from becoming a more serious injury. Encourage early reporting and respond positively. Reduce exposure time through task improvements or job rotation and employ targeted stretching to aid in simple recovery.
Many exciting new technologies have been developed in the last several years that are great additions to a solid ergonomic program:
- Exoskeletons — Frames that are worn by the employee to assist in lifting and/or control posture to avoid awkward positions.
- Wearable sensors — These work by sensing rather than controlling body position.
- Video analysis — These new systems only need a video taken with your phone and a few data entry points to create an ergonomic evaluation. Areas with the most issues can be targeted for improvement.
The best solutions preserve employee health, increase production, and can even enlarge your job candidate pool. In the long term, fewer injuries often mean savings in insurance too.
Visit our resource catalog for additional ergonomic resources you can order or download.