Working on an assembly line can be a physically demanding job. Due to COVID-19 work restrictions, some employees may have spent the last few weeks either not working or working reduced hours. Leadership must consider the possibility of physical deconditioning as employees prepare to restart work as it can increase musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) risk and reduce productivity and product quality.
Changes in the human body due to a reduction in physical activity is known as physical deconditioning. It may involve:
- Reduced muscle strength. The average human can lose between 1% and 3% of muscle strength per day. This can result in a noticeable loss in strength after multiple weeks of sedentary behavior.
- Reduced cardiovascular fitness. Lack of physical activity can cause the heart to lose strength, making it more difficult to quickly pump blood to working muscle during physical activity. This results in less oxygen and energy molecules getting to the working muscle, causing the body to fatigue more quickly.
- Reduced physical endurance. When there is less oxygen getting to the working muscle and tissue, there can also be lactic acid buildup. This contributes to early muscle fatigue and muscle soreness following the activity.
- Reduced range of motion at the body’s joints due to less elasticity and muscle stiffness. Weeks of reduced activity may limit one’s ability to extend or bend body segments, which may require workers to adapt and change the way they complete tasks when they return to work, or they risk straining a muscle.
- Increased whole-body fatigue. It may take time for employees to retrain their muscles as they get used to the physical demands of their jobs.
- Weight gain. As employees switch from daily physical activity to a more sedentary lifestyle, they burn fewer calories per day.
As employees restart work and leadership tries to get back to meeting production and revenue standards, it is important to consider ways to reintegrate employees into standard work without increasing MSD risk.
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