How to Avoid Common Workplace Injuries
Whether you work in an office or on a construction site, your body should feel comfortable as you carry out your duties.
Workers who are physically uncomfortable on the job are more prone to injuries and disorders, which often leads to more absences and higher healthcare costs for their employers. Here are the most common work-related injuries and tips employers and employees can use to prevent these injuries:
LOWER BACK AND TORSO PAIN
Lower back and torso pain is very common and often stems from poor body posture while working. Richard Samuel, MD, the medical director of occupational health for Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, says that workers who lift heavy or bulky loads should always be aware of their form while lifting. “Before lifting a load, determine how far it needs to be carried and use trucks, carts or forklifts if necessary. If the load is light enough to carry, position yourself directly in front of the object and bend your knees to lift it. Avoid twisting your torso or bending your back.” For jobs that require sitting for long periods of time, invest in an office chair where the back of the chair aligns with the natural curve of your spine. Another option to prevent back pain for office workers is to invest in stand-up desks to help employees avoid sitting all day.
DIGITAL EYE STRAIN
The average U.S. worker spends at least seven hours a day working on their computers, putting them at high risk for eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes and neck and shoulder pain. “If you stare at a computer screen for most of the day, follow the 20-20-20 rule by taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes to view something 20 feet away,” Dr. Samuel says. “Also, consider readjusting your screen’s brightness level, repositioning your screen so it’s slightly below your eye level and applying a heated hot/cold eye mask over your eyes to relieve any uncomfortable symptoms.”
Slips, trips and falls are responsible for one in four work injuries. Employers can reduce the likelihood of a fall leading to a bone injury by cleaning up spills as soon as they occur, installing abrasive flooring to reduce slippage, keeping high traffic areas well-lit and clearing walkways of debris, cords and clutter.
CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME
Employees with jobs requiring repetitive hand motions, such as typing, are at higher risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. “Carpal tunnel occurs when the nerves controlling the sensations in your fingers become compressed, making it more difficult and painful for you to work with your hands,” Dr. Samuel says. “To reduce muscle strain, redistribute tasks to allow workers to give their muscles a break at some point throughout the day. Also, consider adding more variety into the employee’s daily routines.” Another option to help prevent carpal tunnel is to offer ergonomic keyboards, wrist rests and offering workspace ergonomic evaluations.
Another risk to consider if a job requires repetitive motions is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage between your bones wear away, leading to swelling, pain and – in some cases – limited mobility. Dr. Samuels mentions that employers can help prevent osteoarthritis in the same way you can prevent carpal tunnel – by allowing workers to give their muscles a break at certain points throughout the day and by adding more variety to their daily work routines.
Heat exhaustion occurs after your body loses too much water and salt after spending a long period of time exposed to high temperatures. Signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, nausea, heat cramps and shallow breathing. “If your employees work outdoors, provide your employees with access to air-conditioned spaces with plenty of cold water and other resources to cool their bodies down. Encourage sunscreen use and discourage overexertion,” Dr. Samuel says.
When your employees work in cold weather, you must take steps to ensure they do not get hypothermia. “Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. Usually, first sign of hypothermia is shivering, but then it can escalate to slurred speech, a weakened pulse or loss of consciousness,” Dr. Samuel says. All employees working in the cold should protect their ears, face, hands and feet with insulated, protective clothing to prevent a drop in their body temperature. There should also be a heated space available where they can take breaks. Dr. Samuel also recommends providing outdoor workers with body thermometers, so they can monitor their body temperature while working outside.
If you or your employee’s daily work habits cause bodily discomfort, your urgent care doctor or your well-being program provider can give you tips on how you can work more comfortably at your job.