Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Ergonomic Aids for Industrial Workers: Don't Overlook the Role That Personal Protective Equipment Can Play in Preventing Costly Ergonomic Injuries

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Ergonomic Aids for Industrial Workers: Don't Overlook the Role That Personal Protective Equipment Can Play in Preventing Costly Ergonomic Injuries

Article excerpt

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) made up approximately one-third of all lost workday cases in 2001. While office workers may receive the most attention in the popular press, the manufacturing and services industries had the highest numbers of MSDs in 2001. In addition, BLS reported that among frequent events or exposures, repetitive motion injuries resulted in the longest absences from work--about 18 days.

So what exactly are MSDs? They are conditions that affect the nerves, tendons, muscles and supporting structures of the body such as invertebral discs. Usually they are caused by prolonged or repeated exertion of one part of the body, such as frequent heavy lifting, maintaining an awkward posture for a long period of time or even vibration. MSDs can include painful and debilitating conditions such as:

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* Carpal tunnel syndrome -- Caused by pressure to the median nerve that runs through the carpal tunnel (which is made up of ligaments and bones).

* DeQuervain's tenosynovitis -- Swelling and inflammation of the tendons and tendon sheath on the thumb side of the wrist.

* Tennis Elbow, or Lateral Epicondylitis -- Caused by tears in the muscles or tendons that are attached to the outside bony part of the elbow.

* Low Back Pain

* Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) -- Caused by the vibration of power tools that leads to numbness of the hand.

For those in the industrial field, a number of workplace applications can cause these disorders. Power tools used by construction workers--chainsaws, sanders, grinders and jackhammers, for example--can cause vibration injuries. The repeated heavy lifting involved in the retail and the material handling industries can cause lower back pain.

While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not yet produced a single standard related to preventing ergonomic injuries, it has developed guidelines for specific industries such as nursing homes, poultry processing and grocery retailers. For industries that do not yet have guidelines, they should assess the potential ergonomic hazards in the workplace and develop a program to address them.

When developing an ergonomics program, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends reducing or eliminating potentially hazardous conditions by using engineering controls (i.e., using machines to transport materials); changing work practices and management policies (i.e., reducing length of shifts or rotating workers through jobs with different physical demands); and using personal protective equipment.

It is the final recommendation of using personal protective equipment that this article will explore.

Back Supports

A study published in 2002 in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health found that those who wear back supports had an average of 15 percent fewer acute back injuries than those given only lifting advice, and 26 percent fewer acute back injuries than those with neither lifting advice nor back support belts. The study was conducted among 12,700 home attendants in New York City.

In choosing the correct back support, there are a number of qualities you may want to consider. First, take a look at the number of stays, or supports, that line the back support belt. Generally, the more stays in a belt, the better the protection. They provide stability and support to the spine. Stays can be made from plastic or metals such as aluminum, but spring steel stays are the best at providing flexibility and strength. They conform to body shapes and spring back to their original form when not engaged, whereas some other materials may remain bent.

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Metal stays should have plastic coating on the ends to prevent them from poking through the pockets that keep them in place. …

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