Thursday, February 26, 2009

Putting pain free workplaces within reach - Devastating injuries are pervasive but preventable.

Musculoskeletal disorders. They sound small compared to terminal cancers caused by toxic chemicals, or crippling incidents that put workers in wheelchairs for life. Few Canadians even know what they are. In real life, however, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can be devastating.

One in 10 Canadian adults experiences a musculoskeletal disorder serious enough to limit basic movements the rest of us take for granted. Most of the 2.3 million Canadians experiencing MSDs — also known as repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) or musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) — are hurt at work.

Most of the 2.3 million Canadians experiencing MSDs — also known as repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) or musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) — are hurt at work.

The economic costs are also huge, estimated at $26 billion annually. Most MSD related costs aren't covered by employers operating unsafe workplaces, but by Canadian taxpayers.

Despite a golden opportunity to prevent injuries to hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers, governments in many Canadian jurisdictions have not yet taken decisive action on MSDs.

Musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive strain injuries are terms to describe a collection of injuries — such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis — that mainly affect muscles, nerves and tendons. Symptoms include aches, pains, burning, tingling, swelling and loss of joint movement and strength.

Many workplace factors trigger MSDs. Repetition, rapid work pace, awkward positions, forceful movements, vibration, cold temperatures, occupational stress and too little recovery time from hard physical labor are the main culprits.

There are two solutions to Canada's epidemic of musculoskeletal injuries, and both focus on prevention. The first is government regulation coupled with effective enforcement. The second is ergonomics, the science of designing work and workplaces to fit workers.

One example of ergonomics in action focuses on baggage handlers at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, who for many years suffered high rates of MSDs. Worker representatives on Air Canada's joint health and safety committee made a business case for ergonomic interventions and, despite worries about decreased productivity, management agreed to a prototype scheme. Follow-up surveys tracked reduced rates of MSDs — and demonstrated productivity gains. This success paved the way for ergonomic improvements both at Air Canada and airport terminals across the country."    (Continued via Straight Goods, Dave Killham)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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