The pandemic forced many of us to adapt to new working conditions. Whether using a cramped kitchen table for a desk or working longer hours on your feet due to the current labor shortage, these situations have put many employees at risk of musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries, which could mean thousands of dollars of worker compensation costs for employers.
MSK injuries affect the muscles and tendons of the body, and include hand and wrist tendonitis, elbow tendonitis, neck and shoulder strains, and more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, MSK injuries account for 33% of worker compensation costs and 38% more time away from work than the average work injury.
However, Timothy Lawler, DO, MPH, an occupational medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, says MSK injuries are preventable. He emphasizes, “Prevention and anticipation are key to avoiding workplace injuries and keeping your employees safe.”
How to support your workforce and prevent workplace injuries
Employers can avoid these costly injuries by following three simple measures:
- Evaluate appropriate work areas and workstations
Encourage employees to have their home workstations and office workstations ergonomically evaluated to ensure comfort and safety.
“In many instances, ergonomic evaluations are set up in a person’s work environment, especially for administrative tasks. Why should that change for the home environment? It shouldn’t,” says Dr. Lawler. “Ergonomic evaluations have an extra cost. However, if an employer is proactive and offers an ergonomic evaluation and proper setup of employees’ home offices, then many MSK injuries can be avoided, saving the employer money in the long run and, more importantly, keeping workers injury-free.”
While ensuring an employee’s office environment is set up appropriately, the same should be said for work environments that are more physically demanding. Dr. Lawler advises employers to allow for adequate breaks and provide assist device or teams to reduce MSK stress on the body. Especially in the summer, breaks from the heat are very important.
- Encourage healthy living and create a wellness program
According to the CDC, healthier employees are less likely to call in sick or use vacation time due to illness, which can help reduce health care spending for employers. Implementing a workplace wellness program can be a powerful tool to encourage healthy habits, as well as build community among employees. Wellness programs can include creating a walking group, or providing presentations on healthful eating, managing diabetes and other health topics. Providing any one of these programs to employees can keep the workforce on track to live healthier lives and reduce injuries.
- Provide compassionate care
These are trying times and the pandemic has pushed many to the brink. Providing compassion and expressing gratitude for your employees can boost morale and help employees feel appreciated by their employer.
“The pandemic is still very much present in our community and the overall underlying stress level is high,” says Dr. Lawler. “Employers should do their best to provide education, compassion and support for their workers’ needs, no matter how big or small the complaint may be.”
Sharp Rees-Stealy’s Occupational Health Department offers ergonomic consulting, where highly trained ergonomic consultants help employers develop strategies to prevent and comply with state and federal laws. Learn more about ergonomic consulting.