Overexertion, a leading cause of workplace injury, accounts for about 25 percent of workers’ compensation claims every year. These injuries cost U.S. businesses $13.7 billion in 2018, according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.
Muscle, tendon and ligament strains and sprains – the most prevalent types of overexertion injuries –commonly are caused by excessive physical effort on the job. Many employees who hurt themselves this way inflict their injuries while they are lifting, pushing, pulling, holding and carrying objects.
Overexertion injuries, sometimes called ergonomic injuries, also can occur while performing repetitive motions, working in awkward positions, making rapid movements, sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time, using intense force and working in extreme temperatures. Ergonomic injuries are disorders of soft tissue like nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, blood vessels and spinal discs.
The good news for both employers and employees, though, is that overexertion is preventable. Regular exercise and strength training to maintain a strong core all will help prevent injury.
Other things employers should encourage employees to do on the job to avoid overexertion injuries include:
- Pre-work stretching will warm up cold, stiff muscles, preparing them for the work ahead
- Push instead of pull, if possible. Pushing loads involves less work by lower back muscles and generally allow for better visibility.
- Lift properly. When manually lifting is necessary, stretch first to loosen up, and practice proper body mechanics. Then bend the knees – rather than the back – and carry items at waist level. Lifting with your legs bent and objects held close to your body helps prevent back injuries.
- Avoid reaching and twisting when lifting.
- Take breaks every half hour from sustained positions.
- Drink plenty of fluids when working outside on a hot day to prevent dehydration.
- Limit the amount of time spent repeatedly doing the same motion.
Employers can help create work environments that reduce overexertion injuries by:
- Reducing the weight of loads that must be handled manually.
- Designing jobs to minimize the need for bending, reaching, and twisting when exerting force.
- Providing adequate space so that workers can get in good positions for the tasks they must complete.
- Minimizing tripping and slipping hazards.
Employees can be the best sources of ideas for ways to improve problem areas. Engage them by forming an ergonomic enhancement team or through interviews and surveys so they can share potential solutions to overexertion risks in the workplace.