The numbers are staggering. Musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders are the costliest and most common workplace injuries. Back pain alone costs employers more than 6 billion dollars each year and leads to more than 264 million lost workdays each year.
MSK injuries represent 30% of all workers' comp claims and cost employers $20 billion annually in direct costs, including benefits and legal costs. Indirect costs are estimated to be 4-5 times that of direct costs. They include training replacement employees, accident investigation, lost productivity, repairs to damaged equipment and property, and loss of productivity associated with absenteeism and employee morale.
The financial impact on employers is significant, but the long-term effects on workers are devastating with the loss of wages, depression, anxiety, and the inability to move without chronic pain. Total employee wellness encompasses many aspects of health, including physical, spiritual, social, financial, occupational, emotional, intellectual, and environmental health. In this post, we talk about each aspect of how MSK injuries affect total employee wellness.
Common MSK Injuries
Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSIs) - RSIs are damage and pain caused by repetitive movement and overuse and affect muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons. These injuries are the fasting growing category of workplace injury and are severe enough to inhibit simple activities with debilitating pain. They could even eventually permanently impair a worker's ability to perform their job.
RSIs mostly affect parts of the upper body, such as the forearms and elbows, wrists and hands, and neck and shoulders. RSIs can be caused by warehouse/store inventory stocking, moving and stacking boxes, heavy machinery operation, and driving a company car, van, bus, or train. Treatment typically includes anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, ergonomic evaluation, and sometimes surgery.
Improper Lifting or Manually Lifting Heavy Objects - For some occupations, heavy lifting at work is a constant source of back injury, arm strain, and shoulder pain. Construction workers, truckers, factory workers, warehouse workers, and delivery van drivers often hurt their backs when lifting heavy loads.
Working Without Taking a Break - Short breaks should be required with repetitive work, or the work may eventually result in wear and tear on the body.
Treatment for these injuries may include anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, ergonomic evaluation, and sometimes surgery. But many MSK injuries are preventable by implementing MSK safety programs as part of the overall safety culture. Let take a closer look.
Programs that address how to prevent injuries at work
The best way to protect your employees and help prevent injuries in your workplace is to take a holistic approach to workplace safety. Put programs in place that help keep employees safe throughout their employment journey.
Functional Job Descriptions (FJD) - A functional job analysis is the process of evaluating and empirically measuring the critical functional demand of a job. The analysis involves assessing the employee, the work, and the worksite and identifies a job's essential functions, marginal functions, critical demands, and worksite measurements such as weight/force, distance, repetitions, clothing, and tools/equipment required. The process includes:
Interviewing employees who perform the job
Interviewing supervisors/employer representatives who supervise workers and understand the job.
Watching the job being performed.
Taking all appropriate measurements
The analysis results in a Functional Job Description (FJD). The information in the Functional Job Description is intended to determine the minimum physical requirements necessary to perform work duties safely.
POET – Post-Offer Employment Testing (POET) is the post-offer/pre-hire physical abilities examination that tests the employment candidate's ability to perform the physical aspects defined by the functional job description. Testing may include lifting and carrying, pushing, pulling, gripping, bending and reaching, climbing, walking, and balancing. The job is contingent on passing POET and takes approximately 30 minutes to perform.
Onsite PT Clinics - Onsite PT programs take proactive measures to identify injury risks and treat work-related injuries before impacting people's economic livelihood. Managed onsite clinics are staffed by physical therapists with advanced specialized training to prevent and treat injuries. Onsite physical therapists continuously refine workplace ergonomics and provide job coaching that discusses best practices for body mechanics, lifting, and positioning. Those are the things that will help prevent injuries from happening in the first place in the long term. And if injuries occur, onsite PTs can effectively treat injuries and test to ensure the employee is ready to return to work.
Return to Work – After treatment, companies need to help employees safely transition back to work. This includes return-to-work planning, return-to-work testing, alignment of employees and supervisors, a team approach to modify work or set expectations for light duty, and open communication channels.
Functional Capacity Evaluations (FCE) are a key component for employees returning to work. An FCE is a comprehensive functional test designed to objectively measure the maximum safe, functional abilities across a broad range of tasks to describe worker abilities and generate recommendations for return to work (and activities of daily living). The FCE is used to assist in workers compensation cases, fit for duty testing, transitional duty or return to work placement, and disability determination cases.
Learn how four companies used these programs to prevent injuries in the workplace by downloading the case study e-book below.