April is a time to celebrate spring – and for many a commitment to living more healthily. Often we’ll think about eating right and exercising more, which is great. But did you know that many of us still risk bone, joint and muscle strain and injury where we spend most of our time – at work?
This is especially a problem for people 45 and older, who make up more than a third of the workforce. As we age, our bodies are less tolerant to work-related stresses like lifting, repetitive tasks, awkward postures, contact stress (irritation from contact with a workstation), vibration and excessive force.
This lack of tolerance, combined with risky work situations, results in common injuries like sprains & strains, tendinitis, fractures and carpal tunnel syndrome, along with bruises and contusions and lacerations.
Who’s getting most injured? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), industries with the highest rates of musculoskeletal injuries occur in service roles, such as health care, transportation and warehousing, retail and wholesale trades.
What’s Causing Workplace Injuries?
When it comes to musculoskeletal disorders, common causes are overexertion (moving a machine once); multiple exertion (moving medium sized packages daily); repetitive motion (typing, keyboarding, production line); and rubbing, abrading or jarring by vibration (jack hammer, nail gun). A big culprit is trips, slips and falls – responsible for 42 percent of workplace injuries, according to BLS.
Additionally, simply sitting for long periods – working in an office, driving a taxi, etc. – can cause a myriad of problems, from poor circulation to muscle degeneration, disk damage, heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes and more. In fact, one recent international study (54 countries) even showed that prolonged sitting contributes to more than 400,000 deaths each year.
You can learn about the implications of sitting and how to improve your situation in this helpful infographic from the Washington Post – in fact, why not print it out and share it with the folks at work?
Many of these issues can be resolved by identifying and correcting unhealthy situations. These include purchasing new equipment, safety training, use of lifting aids, and improving ergonomics – the science concerned with the “fit” between people and their work. It can also come through administrative controls, such as enforcing people’s need to take frequent breaks, employee rotation, immediate reporting of injuries, or environmental changes like improved lighting, use of handrails, and using non-slip floor mats and safety ladders.
The issue is a big one, but it’s not insurmountable if we each do our part to make our workplace a little safer. You can start by asking your boss to help you assess your own work station and daily routine – both your productive time and your breaks. And if you’re like so many in the Bay Area who work at a computer, take care to sit properly and take frequent breaks.
Quick Tip: Set the alarm on your phone to go off after 20 minutes every time you start a work session on the computer – put the phone on the other side of the room, forcing you to get up and walk over to turn it off.
We’ll return to this topic from time to time with tips and tricks you can do at your own place of work. This June, for example, we’ll be commemorating Employee Wellness Month, a national campaign emphasizing the need to create and keep a safer workplace.
Now, it’s been a few minutes. Perhaps it’s time to get up from your computer and go for a little stroll…?