September 26, 2012
The lasting effects of overexertion
View from the Board | Don Schouten
You may have heard of the term musculoskeletal injury (MSI), also referred to as overexertion. This describes a soft tissue injury, usually called a strain or sprain, caused by lifting heavy objects, pulling or pushing items, or doing the same repetitive motion for too long.
There are all sorts of things workers have to do on the job that can cause sprains and strains. In the construction industry, they are a bigger problem than you may think. Between 2009 and 2011, there were about 5,300 overexertion claims. These represent approximately 25 per cent of all claims, and roughly 22 per cent of all claims costs in the construction industry.
MSI’s are the second most common type of injury in this business, after falls. On average, workers lose 62 days of work for each overexertion claim. The uninsured costs (those not covered by WorkSafeBC insurance), such as replacement personnel, and the human costs, in terms of pain and disability, are often more substantial.
In construction, we cannot change the physical nature of the work, but we can minimize or eliminate the risk of injury. So, how can employers keep workers from getting injured due to overexertion? The best way to reduce injuries, increase production and save money is to ensure there is proper planning prior to handling materials and equipment on-site. This can be done through risk assessment, education, training, supervision and continued communication with workers on risk reduction.
Asking the following questions can help minimize risk:
Can material handling activities be eliminated?
Are materials delivered as close as possible to where they will be used?
Can dollies or carts be used to carry materials?
Can equipment, such as cranes, mobile hoists or forklifts, be used to move loads or otherwise make the task easier?
Can extra workers help handle loads?
Are handles or lifting hooks available to carry materials?
Can loads be limited to a weight of 25 kg if they will be handled by workers?
Are handling tasks organized to eliminate or minimize double-handling?
Are routes kept clear for workers and equipment access?
If a worker does get injured due to overexertion, it’s important to have an effective return-to-work program in place as part of a workplace health and safety plan.
Helping an injured worker get back on the job safely is a win-win situation. For the business, it means lower costs and good relationships with workers. For the employee, it will likely make for a faster and better recovery.
To find out about adding a return-to-work program, visit WorkSafeBC’s rehabilitation and return-to-work page at www.worksafebc.com/claims/rehab_and_rtw and follow the links. To prevent workers from getting injured in the first place, go to the overexertion section of our construction portal at www2.worksafebc.com/Portals/Construction/Home.asp.
Don Schouten is the manager of construction with Industry and Labour Services at WorkSafeBC. Don is also a Journal of Commerce Editorial Advisory Board member. Direct comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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