What really caught my attention in the article is the complete lack of attention to engineering controls to improve safety. The author used the example of injuries caused by poor ergonomic conditions and recommends training, back belts, revised job descriptions to limit the allowable weight lifted, and to rotate jobs…
Whatever happened to the Hierarchy of Controls? Facilities Managers are the key decision makers and influencers to ensure the workplace, equipment layout, and tools are designed to fit the capabilities of people, and to identify and eliminate ergonomic risk factors.
If you design the workplace so material is placed a waist level instead of the floor, you automatically eliminate the need to bend and lift.
If you have materials delivered in smaller volume, or provided lifting assist devices, you reduce the risk of the lift and eliminate the need for training and back belts.
If you reduce the awkward postures and high forces required to perform work through the design of the workstation, you eliminate the need to rotate people and provide breaks.
The author primarily recommends administrative and personal protective equipment controls – recommendations that either don’t work or have limited effectiveness! A few key points to consider:
Training is only effective if employees regularly practice what they were taught (and that the advice was correct). Asking someone to work safely in an unsafe environment, or to
lift an unsafe weight safely, is unfair to people at work
Back belts were proven to not be effective preventing injuries among uninjured workers (NIOSH 1994).
Setting limits for the weight people are allowed to lift is an easy, inexpensive, but ineffective solution. Again you are depending on the individual behaviors of people to work safely in an unsafe environment.
Job rotation and rest breaks only affect one of the three primary risk factors for WMSDs (duration/frequency). Job rotation must be based on the ergonomic risk factors present in a job; otherwise you may rotate someone from a low risk to high risk exposure.
The lesson here is “Go back to your roots; Engineering. Pursue engineering controls in the design and layout of your facility that reduce the risk factors of awkward posture, high force, and long duration/high frequency”. By providing a low risk workplace you will recognize ROI through injury prevention, decreased training time, decreased time spent by supervisors correcting unsafe behaviors, eliminate spending money on PPE and back belts, cost of additional breaks, and cost of retraining people to perform other jobs (rotation) to name a few.