Every year, thousands of workers are killed or injured in workplace accidents. In 2012, about 3.8 million workers had a nonfatal workplace injury or illness, according to The National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH). According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost 4,700 workers were killed on the job in 2014.
NIOSH estimates that lost wages, workman’s comp, insurance and medical expenses add up to $192 billion, annually. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of days away from work to recuperate from workplace injury was eight days in 2013, and there were 109 incidents that required time away from work for every 10,000 workers. Clearly, the workplace can be dangerous — and costly.
OSHA regulations include specific requirements for safety in every industry or type of workplace. One area of particular interest: musculoskeletal disorders, can be caused by repetitive motions, improper lifting, or poorly designed tools and workplaces. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, rotator cuff (shoulder) injuries, epicondylitis (elbow), trigger finger and muscle strains or low back injuries.
While OSHA has defined specific regulations for industries in which workers are particularly susceptible to MSDs, it also issues general guidelines that apply to all industries, including:
? Provide management support
? Involve workers
? Provide training
? Identify problems
? Encourage early reporting of MSD symptoms
? Implement solutions to control hazards
? Evaluate progress
OSHA cites numerous independent studies that evaluated the effect of workplace wellness initiatives on the rate of injuries. One such study showed that effective workplace safety programs increased productivity by 43 percent and reduced costs by 28 percent. There were additional favorable outcomes affecting employee morale and retention. Additional research shows that state-mandated programs have highly positive effects. For example, Alaska mandated safety and wellness programs in 1973, and workplace injuries and illnesses decreased more than 17 percent. Hawaii showed a reduction of 20.7 percent. In addition, Massachusetts companies enjoyed a 20.8 percent improvement in loss ratios due to injury and illness. The evidence is staggering — workplace wellness initiatives work.
Effective Workplace Wellness Initiatives
One of the most effective parts of workplace wellness programs involves implementing solutions to prevent or reduce MSDs. OSHA recommends a three-phase program:
Engineering controls include making physical changes to the workplace that can reduce or eliminate hazards. This might include redesigning tools to enable neutral postures, repositioning a worktable to eliminate excessive reach, or offering easily adjustable ergonomic chairs or stools — so employees can work comfortably without strain.
Administrative and Work Practice Controls
By establishing efficient processes and procedures, the company eliminates excess or repetitive motions that can cause injury. Examples of these controls might include rotating employees to different tasks at regular intervals, or implementing a preventive maintenance program to ensure that tools work easily and are in good repair. Educating employees on how to protect themselves with proper position for the task at hand can also be effective.
Personal Protective Equipment
Employers have an obligation to provide personal protective equipment that reduces the risk of MSDs. This might include gloves, wrist braces or padding. It could also encompass ensuring that the employee has control over the arrangement of items on the work surface, the height of the desk or workstation, and appropriate adjustable seating.
Workplace Wellness Initiatives are Good Business
Not only does a workplace wellness initiative make sense from a business perspective, having an effective program in place is mandatory in most states for a wide range of industries. Most European countries have similar mandates, as do many countries in Asia Pacific and South America. If you’re interested in starting a workplace wellness program for your business, there are numerous sources for information and advice available from government, private and institutional sources.
The U.S. government agencies involved in monitoring workplace safety work closely with the American National Standards Institute and the American Industrial Hygiene Association. Your company insurance provider may also have excellent insight into the best solutions to adopt in your industry or environment.
Also read: Back and Lifting Safety, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), and Safety at Work
Joel Vento is the head of marketing and sales at Concept Seating, manufacturer of ergonomic seating. Joel has over 20 years of experience in the seating industry. Mr. Vento headed the design team that designed the 3150 chair. Joel has a BS in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin Madison. Concept Seating produces a variety products like office task chairs and 24-hour dispatch chairs.