For millions of Americans, work is a source of physical pain.
Across industries, workers suffer injuries at staggering rates—from the repetitive movements, awkward postures and forceful exertions required to get their jobs done. These injuries are known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). They are the largest category of workplace injuries in the United States, and they cost employers billions of dollars each year in workers’ compensation, disability, absenteeism, and lost productivity.
Many of these injuries emerge after days, weeks, months or even years of work-related activity. By the time an injury occurs, it’s almost certain a workplace has missed several warning signals and the opportunity to have prevented it in the first place. Workers themselves might not even be aware of the risk factors that are part of their routine tasks until they experience pain. Taking a comprehensive, proactive, and scientific approach to addressing MSDs could prevent these injuries from occurring—and that would provide relief to millions of workers and return billions of dollars to organizations’ bottom lines.
That’s why employers across the country are taking action and committing themselves to specific strategies with the goal of reducing MSD risk and subsequent injuries by 25% by 2025. Together, we can take steps to reduce workplace risks and help workers lead healthier, fuller lives, free of pain. And, through innovation and sharing of lessons learned, we can create safer, more productive workplaces for everyone. Work doesn’t have to hurt, workers are engaged in safety solutions and businesses are even more productive.
Lay a strong foundation for success by:
• Building a workplace culture that values worker health and safety,
• Mobilizing leadership within all levels of your organization; and,
• Engaging workers directly to understand sources of risk and identify possible solutions.
Construct a comprehensive workplace MSD Solutions Program that:
• Reduces risk through ergonomics,
• Creates a medical management system for workers who experience MSD injuries; and,
• Expands worker well-being initiatives that boost individual resilience.
Safe work environments begin and end with company culture. Everyone has a role to play in creating a culture that prioritizes safety. Company leaders can set a clear vision aligning the importance of safety with business success. Managers can lead by example, build trust, and identify hazards. Frontline workers can be empowered to advocate for and use sound safety practices. Consider how you can implement worker training on personal and professional impacts of MSD injuries to mobilize your workforce. Once you have buy-in, you’ll need a champion or team to help create a participatory culture between workers, managers and leadership that reinforces health and safety.
Create a Culture that Values Worker Health & Safety
• Identifying risks and hazards,
• Designing innovative solutions,
• Participating in safety protocols; and,
• Engaging in a culture of continuous improvement, including routine monitoring and reporting MSD symptoms.
• Routinely checking in with workers about ways to make the workplace safer,
• Asking workers what additional support they might need to operate more safely,
• Listening to worker feedback about safer work processes,
• Recognizing employees for speaking up about safety hazards and possible solutions; and,
• Including all workers, such as contractors, temporary workers, seasonal workers, and part-time workers as part of the mission, the message, and the metrics of safety.
Mobilize Leadership at All Levels Within Your Organization
• Establish a company vision that centers on worker health, safety, and well-being,
• Create supportive lines of communication with workers,
• Train leaders and managers on key warning signs and hazards for MSD injuries,
• Incentivize managers and leadership to routinely check in with workers and document injuries and hazards,
• Invest resources into health and safety initiatives; and,
• Enlist and empower health and safety teams to make decisions that benefit workers.
Engage Workers to Understand MSD Risks and Identify Possible Solutions
• Empower your workers in identifying areas for improvement and developing and implementing your safety protocols and interventions.
• Train managers to lead safety conversations with workers and create performance metrics to ensure managers deliver safety messages and actively listen to workers’ needs.
• Motivate workers and managers effectively by making participation in health and safety conversations—both reporting injuries and identifying solutions—part of performance reviews and incentives.
Reduce MSD Risks Through Ergonomics
A crucial element of an MSD Solutions Program is the application of ergonomics. Ergonomics is the science for designing work systems that minimize injury while maximizing performance. Ergonomics considers the workers—their abilities, limitations, and characteristics—as well as the tasks, jobs, workstations, tools, equipment, and the work environment to design a system to preserve workers’ well-being and reduce illness and injuries, especially MSDs. Ergonomics is used to:
• Identify and address existing MSD hazards and risks.
• Build systems to prevent the introduction of new hazards and risks.
Here are different examples of ergonomic postures:
• Work at waist height,
• Bend at the hips and knees, keeping the back straight,
• Carry items close to the body and at waist height,
• Keep computer screens directly straight ahead,
• Keep tasks below shoulder height to avoid awkward and fatiguing postures; and,
• Pick tools that allow for a full hand power grip.
Create a Medical Management System for Workers Who Experience MSD Injuries
Efforts to address work-related injuries must go beyond prevention and consider the needs of workers who develop MSDs. If not properly managed, MSDs can progress to chronic disorders resulting in lifelong disability. Employers can prevent these outcomes and minimize business costs by implementing systems for early detection, coordinating with healthcare providers for diagnosis and treatment and establishing tailored return-to-work protocols with a medical
Promote Early Detection and Intervention
Systems that promote early detection and accurate reporting make it easier for workers to access early treatment, which is often far less costly than advanced MSD injuries. Early detection also provides valuable insight into the underlying causes of injuries, which allows employers to intervene and take steps to prevent them. You can create a workplace culture that rewards early and accurate reporting.
• Train workers to recognize early signs and symptoms of MSDs.
• Train managers to build regular check-ins for MSD symptoms as part of their conversations with workers.
• Establish systems for early reporting.
• Assess causes of symptoms and create processes to intervene as appropriate.
Establish a Safe Return-to-Work Protocol
Employers should establish a coordinated return-to-work team that engages human resources, the healthcare provider, and the worker to:
• Determine safe return-to-work protocols, including necessary leave time, work restrictions, transitional duty options and modifications of job tasks and workstations,
• Create a flexible working arrangement for injured workers to continue rehabilitation sessions (e.g., physical therapy, occupational therapy, vocational therapy) while working; and,
• Provide resources for mental well-being such as, employee assistance programs, coverage of counseling sessions to manage kinesiophobia and other psychosocial factors and navigating “life after injury”.
Promote Physical Well-Being
Sleep, exercise, hydration, and nutrition promote muscle and bone health and strength which builds tolerance against musculoskeletal injury. Ideas to strengthen worker well-being include:
• Team exercises
• Strength and flexibility training
• Wellness seminars
• On-site nutritious snacks and hydration options
• On-site fitness options
• Company fitness challenges
• Subsidized gym memberships
Support Mental Health
Workplace stress contributes to and is worsened by MSD injuries. Muscular tension and poor posture caused by stress and fatigue predispose workers to injury. On the flip side, in a psychologically supportive environment, workers feel safe speaking up about risks and injuries before they develop into problems. Promote mental well-being with tools appropriate
for your workforce. Consider offering:
• Flexible work policies
• Mental wellness education and training seminars
• Mental health days
• Paid family leave policies
• Team bonding activities
• Protocols for communication outside working hours
• Insurance coverage for mental health treatment, especially for workers coping with MSDs
Help your employees live their fullest lives – on and off the clock.