Key’s to Preventing Repetitive Motion Injury

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Mike Rich
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Estimates suggest that repetitive motion injuries cost United States businesses over $20 billion just in workers’ compensation alone. Factor in the costs of employee replacement, productivity loss, and other related expenses, and we’re talking upwards of another $100 billion.

Business costs aside, Repetitive Motion Injuries (RMIs) are a heavy burden to the individual as well. RMIs are painful, costly to treat, and are often times permanent. Permanent injuries put a damper on an individual’s ability to perform the jobs in which they have been trained, meaning there may be the additional stressor of finding work in a new field.

The good news is that with the right work practices and controls, you can significantly reduce workplace hazards that contribute to RMIs.

Workstations

Unfortunately, many workplaces make the mistake of designing employee workstations in a manner that accommodates a broad spectrum of workers. It sounds like a matter of efficiency, but how exactly does this help a specific individual? A workstation ergonomically appropriate for one employee may not be so for the next. It’s important the workstation fits the employee, not the other way around.

There are dozens of ways a workstation can be designed to reduce the risks of RMIs, but the basic idea is to set it up in such a way that the need for movement is limited. For example, frequently-used desk equipment should be within easy reach, not pushed back to a location on the desk that requires an employee to stretch for it. Or, for a worker operating a piece of machinery:  are the controls located in a position that requires the worker to bend down every time they need to input a command? If so, how can you alter the workstation or equipment design to accommodate the worker?

Work Practices

Following safe work practices is the primary key to employee safety. Preventing RMIs is just one of many safety benefits of careful, health-minded behaviors. Some examples are:

  • Operate equipment and tools according to manufacturer instructions. When a tool can be replaced with one with ergonomically-beneficial properties, do so. For example, for work tasks installing screws and nails, pneumatic hand tools or electric screwdrivers are better than manual tools that require repetitive twisting or bending at the wrist.
  • Follow proper lifting techniques. Lift heavy objects slowly and smoothly, as jerky movements can cause muscle injuries. Face the object — do not twist your body, especially during the actual lift. Keep the object close to your body with your feet apart and facing forward, lifting with your legs and not your back. Always consider the weight of the load before you attempt to lift it; ask for help or lift the load mechanically if you believe its weight is beyond your capacity.
  • Take advantage of ergonomic tools at your disposal, such as anti-fatigue mats or adjustable chairs.
  • For desk jobs, ensure your work station is adjusted to your needs. Set your chair to keep your back straight with your spine relaxed at its natural curve. The top of your computer monitor should be at eye level in order to prevent you from having to bend your neck. Keep all of your equipment within arm’s reach. Make sure you face your work tasks directly by turning your chair rather than twisting at the waist. When typing, your elbows should be at your sides, your feet flat on the floor and facing forward, and your wrists straight.
  • It’s recommended you switch to tasks that use an entirely different muscle group on the hour. This will retain the momentum of work efficiency while allowing your muscles the opportunity to recover. If possible, employers should cross train and implement scheduled job rotations.

Personal Health

The risks of many RMIs become less prevalent to those who take care of themselves physically. Getting a sufficient amount of rest, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting enough exercise outside of work are all things that will contribute greatly to reducing RMI hazards.

Studies show taking small hourly breaks throughout the workday offers more reparative benefits than one long break. It’s important you don’t skip breaks — take advantage of opportunities to stand, walk, stretch your muscles, close your eyes, or, depending on the severity of repetition involved in your work, stop moving altogether and rest.

 

As a final note, training and inspection where RMIs are concerned must be thorough and ongoing. A written RMI safety policy is a great way to start. Employees should be well enough aware of their job requirements and equipment to recognize an RMI hazard from a mile away. Employers need to conduct regular worksite inspections to:

1.  Ensure that workers are following safe work practices. Correct unsafe behaviors right away, encouraging employee involvement in discussing more effective behaviors.

2. Identify hazards and determine methods by which they can be controlled or eliminated.

Protect your business and your employees from the damages caused by repetitive motion injuries. Always put safety first!

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