Reducing On-the-Job Injuries in Manufacturing and Construction
Much discussion and progress has been made in the field of ergonomic design for office workers to reduce fatigue and injuries. Chairs, computer monitors and keyboards, and even telephones have been redesigned to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome and vision problems. But, what about other industries such as construction, manufacturing, or distribution?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, some of the most common injuries in construction and manufacturing occur due to job demands that push the human body beyond its natural limits. Workers who often lift, stoop, kneel, twist, grip, stretch, reach overhead, or work in awkward positions are at risk of developing a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WMSD). These disorders include back problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, rotator cuff tears, sprains, and strains.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics report published in November 2016 (latest numbers available) found that the private construction industry reported nearly 80,000 non-fatal injury cases in 2015, resulting in workers spending a median of 13 days off the job. Additionally, approximately 35 construction workers out of every 10,000 experienced a WMSD incident. In manufacturing, 118,050 cases were reported resulting in nine days away from work, with 33 manufacturing employees out of every 10,000 experiencing a WMSD incident.
Contributing Factors in Construction Injuries
Construction workers typically spend a lot of time gripping tools or materials with one or both hands, which can put stress on hands, wrists, and/or elbows, causing discomfort and pain. Eventually workers can develop serious muscle or joint injuries, reducing the ability to use their hands and wrists, and even resulting in permanent disability.
So, what’s the answer? Obviously, hand-intensive work can’t be eliminated from construction, but it is possible to change how it’s done so the work is easier on employees in the field. Solutions that can reduce the level of stress on hands, wrists, and arms are readily available. Many of the solutions can also eliminate other potential safety hazards and increase productivity. The type of task and the site conditions will determine which solutions are best.
General solutions for doing hand-intensive work with less risk of injury include:
- Change materials or work processes. One of the most effective solutions may be to use materials, building components, or work methods that are less labor-intensive. For example, use lock nuts or button nuts on all-thread systems to reduce repeated hand-arm twisting and turning.
- Change tools and/or equipment. If the work requires frequent intensive hand activity, power tools should be substituted for manual tools. This will reduce the amount of hand force needed and the number of repeated movements, especially twisting motions.
- Use ergonomically improved tools. Select a tool that comes with a power grip, or add a power grip to existing tools. Compressible foam can be used to wrap narrow tool handles and improve the grip. Some power tools have a large trigger that can be operated with multiple fingers so stress on a single finger is reduced.
- Choose the right tool for the job. Awkward wrist positions can lead to repetitive strain injuries and reduce your grip strength. Snips and other tools are available with features such as offset handles that can help keep the wrist straight on some types of jobs.
The Center for Construction Research and Training’s Choose Hand Safety website provides a database that can be referenced as a guide to help construction workers understand what to look for when selecting hand tools. Always remember, though, you can prevent injuries by using the right tool for the task being performed and choosing hand tools that are the best fit for your hands.
Contributing Factors in Manufacturing Injuries
In 2017, more than 15 million workers in the United States were employed in the manufacturing industry. The majority of injuries that occur in manufacturing are related to parts and materials; machinery; and floors, walkways or ground surfaces.
Injury prevention on the job is serious business. To help mitigate injuries and keep a handle on Workers Compensation costs, here are some tips to follow:
Tips for Overexertion Injury Prevention, including Repetitive Motion Stress
- Workplace safety programs in this category should focus on reducing Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), which are injuries affecting musculature, ligaments, tendons, bones, soft body tissues and nerves.
- Injury prevention programs should focus on reducing awkward or static postures like sitting or squatting for long periods; lifting heavy or awkward objects; using poorly designed or poorly fitting tools, performing repetitive motions and poor work organization.
- Make sure you are providing employee training that emphasizes safety training, standing and stretching breaks, and using PPE (personal protective equipment).
- Here are five specific workplace safety tips for reducing lower back pain injuries:
- Train employees on the proper safe way to lift objects
- Provide power-assisted lifts for heavy objects
- Use a “team lift” approach for objects over 40 pounds if not using a power lift
- Encourage employees who sit for long periods to stand
Repetitive Motion Stress
- Encourage employees to sit properly, take breaks, and change physical positions.
- You can also reduce repetitive stress injuries by using appropriate tools and PPE, such as shoulder pads, knee pads and vibration reducing gloves.
STF: Slips, Trips, and Falls
- Reduce slips, trips and falls by ensuring your workplace is clean, well-organized and tidy.
- Make sure you have safe walking routes and your employees wear proper footwear with good traction. Finally, teach your employees to how to fall “properly” to avoid severe injuries.
- Ladders are of special concern when establishing an accident prevention program. NIOSH has created a mobile app for using ladders properly. Check it out if your facility uses ladders often.
- Employing good safety practices is the number one way to reduce your Workers’ Compensation costs, both directly (reduced insurance premiums) and indirectly (cost of hiring replacements, retraining, overtime, and loss of productivity).
If your business needs safety training, get in touch. We are OSHA authorized trainers for the 10- and 30-hour construction/general industry courses. We also offer forklift operator certification training, as well as classes focused on fall prevention, respiratory training, equipment process control training, among many others. Call us today at (314) 486-3141 for a consultation!