Ergo injuries: The four things every worker needs to know

by on November 10, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Strains and sprains can cause lots of injuries – but did you know that they account for 40% of all workers comp claims costs? That’s according to Chuck Easterly, loss control manager of SAIF Corp., Salem, OR, a workers comp insurer.

That’s why your workers comp cost reduction efforts should focus not only on catastrophic injuries, but the small injuries from everyday tasks that eventually add up to big costs.

Bob Button, an ergonomics guru with Safety In Motion, Portland, OR, suggests you consider teaching the following techniques for preventing strains and sprains:

  1. Keep your elbows closeKeeping your elbows close to your body avoids all sorts of problems related to stressing joints and muscles.

    Example: Even something as simple as driving a vehicle with a forearm draped over the top of the steering wheel causes unnecessary stress that adds up over years of work. It extends the elbows too far from the body – workers are better off keeping their elbows close to their sides.

    Developing a habit of keeping your elbows close also forces workers to think about long reaches, a common cause of ergonomic injuries. They’re better off, if possible, looking for alternatives to reaching, especially if they’re frequently repeating the motions.

  2. Keep your balance
    Center of gravity is crucial to safe motion. That’s why martial arts instructors show their students the importance of understanding their own, and their opponent’s, center of gravity. Similarly, at work, employees can easily over-stress themselves if they are pushing, pulling or lifting in ways that don’t leverage their center of gravity.Example: One worker sprained his shoulder merely pulling a long hose along a wet field. He was using his arms almost exclusively because he was facing the hose as he was pulling and had his arms too high, fighting his own center of gravity while trying to pull. He should have turned 45 degrees to establish a more solid base to work from.
  3. Don’t twist
    Besides long reaches and poor balance, a third common cause of ergonomic injuries is twisting motions.Example: A worker needs to grab a box that is behind others. He might be tempted to reach over them, creating an extended arm and weakening his center of gravity. If he has to twist his body as well because he can’t easily access the box, he’s taking a big risk.

    Instead, the worker should move the boxes in front out of the way, and then grab what he needs. If workers need to move materials in a way that would involve twisting, they should instead lift, pivot their body, and then re-set the object down. Pivoting instead of twisting will avoid all sorts of accidents.

  4. 4. Avoid bending when possible
    Ideally, workers should work from a stable, balanced base, keep elbows close and avoid twisting. But bending, even in a straight line, can take a heavy toll on workers – especially older ones. When possible, engineer out bending with ergonomic equipment.But if you can’t, then train your workers to take special care. Sometimes paying attention to how they’re lifting and moving will help. Have them squat down to work from their legs, not their backs, and move from a stable base.

(Button and Easterly recently spoke at a recent ASSE Conference).

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