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Are too many strain injuries occurring?
Causes are many: Here are solutions
If an employee reports shoulder soreness, this could be caused by her job, sports activities she does on weekends, or both. "Risk factors and the mechanism of injury are often both unclear with repetitive strain injuries," says Susan Murphey, BS, CECD, president of Essential WorkWellness in Shoreline, WA.
If you don't recognize the risk for injury, hazard-free light duty or job restrictions are more difficult to identify, says Murphey. She gives these recommendations to reduce repetitive strain injuries:
Remember that the injury may have been caused by cumulative effects of years of exposure, and risk factors from multiple sources.
"To just say one activity is causing it is a little short-sighted," says Murphey. "It is often not one event, but a combination of things."
Understand the risk factors in "light duty" jobs.
"Often, errors in judgment are made in assigning light duty," says Murphey. The 'light duty' job may have the same risk factors as the work that caused the original injury, she explains.
Dedicate a period of time to develop a template for moving forward.
"That allows you to get the ball rolling," says Murphey. "The most time-consuming part is just getting started."
Do not measure a program's success by the number of injuries reported.
This can dissuade workers from reporting injuries, cautions Murphey. "When you start a process like this, it's not unusual that the injuries reported go up. That is actually a good thing," she says.
This is because workers are reporting concerns earlier, which is a sign that you should keep going with the program and see it through, says Murphey.
"Then you start to see a reduction in the severity of injuries, and therefore the cost. The total number of reported injuries starts to go down," she says.
Instead of giving incentives for safe days without an injury reported, Murphey recommends rewarding workers for coming up with ideas to improve safety. "The goal is to change the work environment and promote healthy behaviors, rather than discourage reporting of concerns," she says.
Ask employees, "How do you think you are most likely to get hurt in the work you are doing?"
"It's pretty interesting what can come out of a conversation like that," Murphey says. "Never underestimate what you can learn just by asking them. They know the job better than anyone else."
Next, encourage workers to come up with their own ideas for work safety solutions, she recommends. "With some of the projects I've done, the solutions they come up with are things I never would have thought of," says Murphey. "The things that they want changed are usually not a big deal."
For more information on musculoskeletal symptoms in the workplace, contact:
Pam Dannenberg, RN, COHN-S, CAE, Ergonomic and Occupational Health Services Manager, EK Health Services, San Jose, CA. Phone: (877) 861-1595. Fax: (415) 643-6775. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.