Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the major types of injuries occurring in industry, accounting for up to 75% of recordable injuries in the workplace. Controlling and reducing these injuries is a priority for most occupational safety professionals. The five most common approaches companies use to manage MSDs are:
1. Fix the person – injury management
2. Fit the person to the task – job matching
3. Change the person – wellness and stretching
4. Change how the person performs work – individual behavior
5. Change the workplace – ergonomics
The most effective approach is changing the workplace (ergonomics). Improving the workplace is most effective when people from across the organization and who are capable of making changes are involved in the process. After ergonomics and safety teams conduct assessments, employees bring their expertise to cross-functional teams who work on the controls that reduce exposure to MSD risk factors. Engineering and administrative controls are best supported by engineers, maintenance personnel, and professionals qualified in ergonomics.
Successful organizations establish an ergonomics process to proactively identify and manage exposures to MSD risk factors in their workplace. These organizations are open to making and funding changes, realize that the investment in equipment and changes will pay off, and integrate the change process into their normal methods of business.
Advantages of this approach:
Causes of MSDs (risk factors) are identified and controlled before an injury and loss occurs.
Engineering controls are reliable (not dependent on employee behaviors).
Employee engagement in improvements boosts buy-in and acceptance of workplace changes.
There is a high return on investment (value), and although expense and capital cost accompany engineering controls, this investment is significantly lower than the costs of later MSD claims.