Repetitive Strain Injuries are Hurting Our Employees, and Our Businesses

Repetitive strain injuries is a very real risk to not only employees, but business in general. Costs associated with these types of injuries can cost businesses an estimated $15 to $20 billion dollars a year in the United States according to the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

The number of repetitive strain injury reports from office environments has been increasing steadily since the early 1990’s. This is mainly due to the increase in computer use and repetitive motions. For example, Microsoft conducted a study that measured the computer usage patterns of 88 participants over nine months and found that computer users strike the keyboard space bar an average of 669 times per hour of active computer use. That is certainly repetitive!

Another survey of 335 professionals found they reported an average of 5.8 hours of computer use a day, accounting for almost 70% of their total work day.

Even though repetitive stain injuries do not appear suddenly, but through a slow process of multiple small injuries building up, we can see a quickly rising trend of injuries being reported earlier, sometimes up to 50% of employees experiencing symptoms within the first year of employment!

Identifying and rectifying the underlying issues causing these employee injuries is vital to not only the businesses employing these people but also the United States in general, repetitive stain injuries resulting in workers’ compensation claims that can result in nearly $15 to $20 billion dollars in lost work time and medical claims every year.

A Brief History of Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the study of the human body and how it works, and ergonomists are using this knowledge to build furniture, equipment, and devices that better fit the human body and its movements.

People have been suffering from musculoskeletal injuries (due to repetitive strain and injury) for centuries, Bernardo Ramazinni, a medical professional, complained of work related injuries in a 1700s supplemental called “De Morbis Artificum”  (Disease of Workers).

Even though we have been enduring this type of stain and injury for hundreds of years, the science behind ergonomics wasn’t truly developed until the 1950’s, mainly in the factories where workers were sustaining debilitating injuries like arthritis from repetitive labor.

It wasn’t until the 1980’s and the rise of computers in the office environment that designers realized that new furniture and office design was called for. Office workers began complaining of aches and pains caused from prolonged sitting and companies had to recognize these injuries as workplace injuries and pay medical support for employees who suffered backaches, neck cramps, arthritis, and other ailments.

Today, most companies take ergonomics seriously, and the ones who don’t should reconsider. Investing the money today to improve your office/work space and your employees workstations, companies can save hundreds of thousands of dollars down the road from lost time, injuries, compensations, and insurance expenses.

What Can Be Done to Limit Worker Injury?

Limiting worker injury isn’t necessarily a sweeping fix, workers must be seen as individuals with individual needs to help them be healthy and productive. A “one-size-fits-all” approach is not the way to go when it comes to solving ergonomic problems in the workplace. Lets take a look at some of the most common issues caused by poor ergonomics, and the solutions that can be implemented to solve them.

Problem: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is caused by pressure being placed on the median nerve that runs from your forearm to your hand. This pressure is cause by swelling, or anything that compresses the carpal tunnel, such as repetitive movement of the hand and wrist.

This pressure on the carpal tunnel and median nerve causes tingling, numbness, weakness, and pain in the hand, wrist, and forearm. Symptoms most often occur in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger. If you have problems with your other fingers but your little finger is fine, this may be a sign that you have carpal tunnel syndrome. A different nerve gives feeling to the little finger.

Early stages of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome causes numbness and pain that can be relieved by stretching, taking a break, or over-the-counter pain relief. More advanced cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can lead to constant numbness and pain, that may require medical attention, but the use of traditional ergonomics can still be beneficial. Unfortunately, ignoring this type of pain and injury can lead to permanent numbness, loss of hand coordination, and atrophied muscles in the hand, especially the thumb. Nerves damaged to this point may never be fully restored, even with surgery. Taking precautions early on, and addressing existing pain is the key to preventing this type of damage.

The Solutions:

Preventing and minimizing carpal tunnel damage is fairly simple. Stretching your wrist and hand can keep pressure off of the nerves and tendons, using mouse & wrist pads, or wrist braces can keep your wrist in a more neutral position, reducing the repetitive stress placed on the wrist joints and carpal tunnel. Workers are also encouraged to take longer breaks between repetitive functions to reduce potential swelling of the carpal tunnel. This is one of the easiest and most inexpensive problems to correct in a workspace.

Problem: Back and Lumbar Pain

Back and lumbar pain can be caused by many different things, but in relation to workplace injuries, sitting is one of the biggest factors in creating or exacerbating pain the in neck, shoulders, and back.

People rarely sit in a chair “correctly”, meaning with both feet shoulder width-apart, flat on the floor, with their backs fully against backrest. Most people tend to slouch over, or slouch down which can overstretch spinal ligaments, strain the discs in the spine and damage other surrounding spinal structures. Over time, these injuries can develop or worsen back pain.

Another contributor to back pain is the fact that people are not only sitting incorrectly, but also using a chair that is incorrect for their body. This is a situation where “one-size-fits-all” is definitely not the way to solve this issue in the workplace. Overall height, width, and seat pan sizes differ based on user heights and weights. Viewing your workforce as individuals and addressing their unique builds is the only way to ensure proper solutions.

The Solutions:

While this solution is a fairly expensive one, it can do so much in terms of increasing productivity, increasing output, decreasing missed time and insurance claims, and improving morale. Choosing chairs that are easily reconfigurable, and with parts that are easily replaced, makes this type of investment an even smarter, more cost-effective solution because you can reconfigure parts of a chair for a new employee or one with changing needs, without buying an entire new chair.

Buying a new chair is not quite enough, making sure they’re being used properly is important too. When purchasing new chairs, ask the rep dealing with your order if it is possible to have a demonstration of the product with the employees so everyone understands and is able to configure their chair to fit their needs. An ergonomic chair can only do so much if the user is not properly fit to the seat.

The Problem: Leg and Knee Pain

Figure on left (no mat) shows decreased blood flow compared to figure on right (with mat).

While standing in a natural human posture by itself poses no health hazards, people who work in positions where a majority of their time is spent standing or walking report more pain in feet, ankles, knees, legs, even in the lower back, shoulders, and neck.

These types of injuries seem temporary in the beginning, especially since sitting relieves most of the symptoms in the short term, but long terms effects of prolonged standing can cause inflammation in the veins, which can lead to chronic and painful varicose veins. Other damaging effects from prolonged standing is immobilized or locked joints, temporary at first, eventually leading to rheumatic diseases and degenerative damage to tendons and ligaments.

The Solutions:

All standing employees should be encouraged to change positions frequently, and be standing on an anti-fatigue mat. Anti-fatigue mats keep the body slightly off-balance, enough to keep the muscles moving and the blood pumping, preventing blood pooling, and the numbness and pain that can come with that. Anti-fatigue mats can be placed at individual workstations, in runners along walkways or stations, there are even solutions that employees can strap to their shoes, giving them the comfort and safety of an anti-fatigue mat without the installation or floor space needed for matting.

All equipment and furniture a standing employee uses should be height adjusted to prevent excessive bending, reaching, or straining which will also reduce the amount of injury an employee is exposed to.

Summary

This is by no means the definitive list of employee injuries nor is it the only solutions available. We are merely trying to highlight the fact that by investing time and money now regarding ergonomics and health safety, companies can save in the long run by decreasing injuries, missed time, compensation, and insurance while simultaneously increasing satisfaction, comfort, productivity, and revenue.

Production Automation offers a wide variety of solutions pertaining to ergonomics and safety, feel free to browse the categories below. If you have any questions about any of the products listed, or if you have general questions about improving ergonomics in your workplace, contact us! We would be more than happy to help you identify ergonomic solutions for people, flooring, workstations, ect. Production Automation can be contacted toll-free at 888-903-0333 or [email protected], Monday through Friday.

Shop Production Automation Ergonomic Solutions

Anti-Fatigue Matting (For all industries & environments)

Ergonomic Seating (Standard, big & tall, cleanroom, ESD)

Ergonomic Accessories (Footrests, monitor arms, standing stations)

Workstations (Modular, single, cleanroom, ESD)

www.gotopac.com (All products)