March 8, 2012 Liz Borkowski, MPH 2Comment

In the latest issue of EHS Today, Terence Milford lays out the case to employers for investing in ergonomics:

In 2002, a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor reported that employees suffering from repetitive stress injuries incurred in the workplace took a median of 23 days off work, while those who experienced a slip, fall or trip took 7, and those exposed to harmful substances took just 3.

Ergonomics and the impact on workers’ compensation claims not only is found in the office or in manufacturing jobs. In 2007, NIOSH reported that of the workers’ compensation claims made across the construction industry, 32 percent of injuries could have been prevented by heeding proper ergonomic procedures. The cost of the average claim was $9,240. The same report also points out that repetitive stress injuries (RSI) cost U.S. employers over $1 billion per year.

By taking concise actions, the benefits of proper ergonomics are bountiful, leading to high productivity, avoidance of illness and injury risks such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), less fatigue, a reduction in error rates and increased job satisfaction for workers.

Mitford follows this with tips for arranging workstations to reduce the risk of injuries to office workers — and in addition to giving familiar advice about positioning chairs, keyboards, and monitors, he reminds us that workstations should be re-evaluated every year to accommodate changes in workers’ bodies and habits.

In a companion piece, James Mallon goes into more detail about some of the more and less effective strategies employers tend to use for ergonomics. True ergonomics — which NIOSH defines as “the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population” — requires identifying risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders and implementing engineering controls (altering the physical workplace) as a first priority. Administrative controls like job rotation, rest breaks, and slower paces can also help, but should be secondary to engineering controls, he explains.

In other news:

New York Times (At War blog): A new study from the Department of Veterans Affairs finds that veterans with PTSD and pain problems are more likely to receive prescriptions for opion paid meds and to use the drugs in risky ways, when compared to veterans with pain but no PTSD diagnosis. Chronic pain is common among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

NIOSH Science Blog: Long work hours and shift work pose risks to workers, employers, and communities — but actions by employers and workers can reduce them.

California Watch: The deaths of Armando Ramirez and his brother Heladio from hydrogen sulfide inhalation have drawn attention to the insufficient scrutiny California’s composting facilities receive from Cal/OSHA.

Charleston Gazette: Former Massey Security Director Hughie Elbert Stover has been sentenced to three years in jail after being convicted of making a false statement and obstructing an investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that killed 29 miners in 2010. (See Coal Tattoo for more on what Stover’s sentence means in the context of the criminal probe into the disaster.)

BBC News: An explosion that flattened part of the Keeper Chemical Plant in the northern China county of Zhaoxian was initially reported to have killed 13 people. The toll climbed in the days following the blast, and the Associated Press later reported that 25 were killed and 46 injured.

2 thoughts on “Occupational Health News Roundup

  1. Ergonomics: There is no doubt to the readers of this excellent blog the costs cited above are valid, but it almost is like climate change science: a matter of belief. Many people simply don’t believe that these costs are manifested in their own operations so they don’t think they need to do anything. We just have to keep stating the facts and maybe some day it will break through to the “ergonomic deniers”.

  2. That’s a good point — some people are pretty invested in ergonomic skepticism, and might not be open to listening to messages from NIOSH or DOL. But at least in the case of ergonomics, there are business owners who’ve invested in it and seen benefits, and hearing from these folks might make an impact on the skeptics. When it comes to climate change, it’s much harder to demonstrate the impacts of preventive action.

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