Don’t slip! Risk factors that lead to costly ‘bodily reaction’ injuries

by on July 31, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

We know a guy who slipped on a banana peel. He started to fall backward, just like in the cartoons. But in his case, he caught himself in time and remained upright.

But there was a cost to it: His back hurt for about a week afterward.

As safety director, you’re probably not surprised there was an injury here. Bodily reactions – slipping or tripping without falling, bending, climbing, reaching, standing and sitting – are a costly source of injuries.

For the past several years, Liberty Mutual has ranked “bodily reaction injuries” fourth in direct costs to employers – and these costs are increasing. The last year statistics are available, 2011, shows a 9.4% increase in bodily injury costs over a 10 year period, to $5.28 billion.

What can you do to reduce bodily reaction injuries? Address the following risk factors:

Risk factor 1: Work environment
Through inspections, sample employee interviews, injury and near-miss reports, and your own walkarounds, learn where and when workers are reacting to hazards. Look for:

  • busy traffic areas, such as places where vehicles/industrial trucks cross paths with pedestrians
  • debris-laden, slippery or uneven surfaces
  • locations where workers may not be able to stabilize their bodies when lifting
  • any place where workers can skin knuckles, or fall backward pulling or pushing on something that gives way – one worker we know was injured prying a dumpster door open when it suddenly gave way
  • tight work spaces that can lead to awkward postures, and
  • uncomfortable seating and standing surfaces – standing on hard concrete in one place for long hours can create stiffness and weight-shifting that can lead to injuries.

Risk factor 2: Strength, conditioning, and age
You know two people can slip and catch themselves, and one will get hurt regaining their balance and the other will just shake it off. The difference often is strength, conditioning and athleticism. The U.S. Surgeon General says 60% of American adults are overweight and out of shape.

Putting on weight changes a person’s center of gravity. They will react in a less balanced, less graceful manner.

As people age, they accumulate scars, and old injuries can become reinjured.

Plus, as people age, they change their body movements without realizing it – they lift their feet slightly less, making them more likely to trip. They lose flexibility and may find it more difficult to reach up high or extend their bodies.

What you can do
Once you’ve identified your risk factors, you’ll have a better handle on how to address them. Some options:

1. Address the environmental factors first. If there is no need for bodily reactions, people won’t be diving out of harm’s way. This can be an involved, big project, so we’d suggest:

    • Prioritize according to ease of fix.Easy fixes are small victories that build safety culture and improve safety morale. They also tend to appear suddenly. Have your supervisors watch out for traps other workers leave behind, such as things that obscure views. Moving a stack of boxes out of the way to improve visibility can reduce the chance of an industrial truck nearly striking another person.Extensions on hand tools will reduce the chance of skinned knuckles. Supplying them shows that your company is paying attention to the details. When workers see that, they’re more likely to pay attention to the details themselves.
    • Prioritize equipment fixes according to danger. Sometimes no one notices procedural inadequancies in high-hazard work until it’s too late. Ask workers how often they’ve had to suddenly move out of danger. That can give you a good idea if revamping procedures is necessary.

2. Address physical conditioning issues. Wellness programs work, but require strong supervisory leadership. Supervisors who enthusiastically encourage conditioning and come up with creative ways to integrate physical conditioning into work routines, such as pre-shift stretching and suggested workouts. In one assembly line we know, the supervisor flips on a boom box once an hour, which signals a two-minute “dance break.” (It’s popular, too.)

Also, make sure people have sufficient breaks for the person’s age and condition.

Finally, think in terms of age-appropriate ergonomics. Shorten reaches when possible and offer lifting and other assist devices to reduce the chances of dropping objects.

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