Ergonomic injuries account for 37 percent of all workplace injuries according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most of them attributed to overexertion. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates these injuries cost between 45 and 54 billion dollars each year.
But, the good news is while it may cost billions to address these injuries, it won’t necessarily cost billions to prevent them.
Here are a few, simple, inexpensive, and no-cost techniques that can help your employees reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries.
Stretching and Micro breaks: Micro breaks are short pauses – 30 to 60 seconds every ten minutes – where employees take their focus off the task at hand and focus on something else. This gives the legs, back, neck, and eyes a chance to rest.
Stretching compensates for those muscles that are held in a contracted, static position and increases blood flow to those areas of the body. These can be done during those micro breaks. In addition to the typical breaks, additional shorter rest breaks each hour have been shown to reduce the risk of discomfort, fatigue, and injury, with no decrease in productivity.
Changing postures: Sitting all day is not a good idea, nor is standing all day. Changing postures throughout the shift give the body a break by alleviating stress on one part of the body and engaging another. Sit-stand workstations are one option to allow your workers to alternate between these two positions. Footrests are another option, allowing employees to change the placement of their feet throughout the day.
And, if workers need to sit for prolonged periods of time, shifting weight from one side to the other in the chair helps alleviate stress. Getting up and taking a walk is also recommended.
If your employees must stand all day for work, please see our safety meeting topic on that subject in this issue of Safety News.
The 20-20-20 rule: Staring too long at a computer screen can cause eye strain, potentially resulting in double vision, headache, and fatigue. The 20-20-20 rule suggests you change your focal distance throughout the day to minimize the risk of eye strain. In short, the rule is: every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away. This technique comes with an added benefit of providing employees the opportunity for a microbreak and to do some stretches.
Job Rotation: Changing tasks throughout the day gives one set of muscles a chance to rest while engaging other muscles. Job rotation offers additional benefits of cross-training workers and reducing boredom while maintaining productivity levels.
Workstation Layout: Plan out your workstation to ensure your tools, whether a keyboard and mouse or an industrial tool, are positioned to reduce the risk of reaching or other awkward postures. Reaching too far for these tools can increase strain to the arm, shoulders, and even neck. If your employees are doing this all the time, they greatly increase their risk of injury.
While not every business has the resources to invest in ergonomic evaluations and specialized equipment or furniture to reduce the risk of ergonomic injuries, all can employ techniques like the ones above. Moving around, taking breaks, the 20-20-20 rule, and stretching throughout the day do wonders for our muscles and help us avoid painful injuries that might force us to miss work.
And, these techniques won’t cost you an arm and a leg.