With more businesses reopening and many of us going back to work, there’s more than COVID-19 and social distancing to think about. June is Employee Wellbeing Month, and comes at a great time to remind ourselves also of how to reduce risk of muscle, bone, and joint injuries at work – whether you work from home or you're transitioning back to your traditional workplace.
Workplace injuries are a problem especially 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 and strains, tendinitis, fractures, and carpal tunnel syndrome, along with bruises, 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 healthcare, transportation, 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 (keyboarding/typing, 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.
For many of us this problem may have been exacerbated by working from home during the pandemic – especially if you’ve been sitting for long periods in a less-than-optimal chair
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 workstation and daily routine – both your productive time and your breaks. And if you’re like so many who work at a computer – including working at home – take care to sit properly and take frequent breaks.
Another 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.
Now, it’s been a few minutes. Perhaps it’s time to get up from your computer and go for a little stroll…?
Here’s a great video from the Wall Street Journal on setting up your desk at work or home to maximize ergonomics and minimize your chance of discomfort or injury
Download an infographic poster created by the Washington Post on the dangers of sitting
We're the staff and volunteers at Jackson Orthopedic Foundation, committed to improving the lives of patients with musculoskeletal conditions through education, research and service.