Why don’t we want to save billions?

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Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) are one of the most common and costly problems for people and companies across the world. It cost billions of Euros, but a few numbers to illustrate just how big the problem is!

  1. MSD are the single largest category of workplace injuries and are responsible for almost 30% of all worker’s compensation costs (source: BLS).

  2. US companies spent $50 billion on direct costs of MSD in 2011 (source: CDC).

  3. Indirect costs can be up to five times the direct costs of MSD (source: OSHA).

  4. The average MSD comes with a direct cost of almost $15,000 (source: BLS).

  5. The economic and human costs of MSD are unnecessary. Musculoskeletal disorders are preventable.

To lay the foundation for an MSD prevention strategy, it’s important to understand what MSD are and what causes them. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to allocate your time, attention and resources most effectively to prevent MSD.

Definition of Musculoskeletal Disorder

Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.).

Common MSDs include among others:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

  • Tendonitis

  • Muscle / Tendon strain

  • Ligament Sprain

  • Tension Neck Syndrome

  • Thoracic Outlet Compression

  • Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

  • Epicondylitis

  • Mechanical Back Syndrome

  • Degenerative Disc Disease

  • Ruptured / Herniated Disc

We use the term “musculoskeletal disorder” because it accurately describes the problem. Other common names for MSD are “repetitive motion injury”, “repetitive stress injury”, “overuse injury” and many more. The problem with using that kind of terminology is that it implicates a singular cause for damage to the musculoskeletal system – repetition and stress. This is limiting because more and more research is pointing to multiple causative risk factors leading to MSD.

The Cause of Musculoskeletal Disorders – Exposure to Risk Factors

When a worker is exposed to MSD risk factors, they begin to fatigue. When fatigue outruns their body’s recovery system, they develop a musculoskeletal imbalance. Over time, as fatigue continues to outrun recovery and the musculoskeletal imbalance persists, a musculoskeletal disorder develops.

These risk factors can be broken up into two categories: work-related (ergonomic) risk factors and individual-related risk factors.

Development of Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD)

So the root cause of MSD is exposure to MSD risk factors – both work-related risk factors and individual-related risk factors.

Work-related Risk Factors

Workplace design plays a crucial role in the development of an MSD. When a worker is asked to do work that is outside his body’s capabilities and limitations, he is being asked to put his musculoskeletal system at risk. In these situations, an objective evaluation of the workstation design tells us the worker’s recovery system will not be able to keep up with the fatigue that will be caused by performing the job. The evaluation will tell us that ergonomic risk factors are present, the worker is at risk of developing a musculoskeletal imbalance and a musculoskeletal disorder is an imminent reality.

There are three primary ergonomic risk factors. 

  1. High task repetition. Many work tasks and cycles are repetitive in nature, and are frequently controlled by hourly or daily production targets and work processes. High task repetition, when combined with other risks factors such high force and/or awkward postures, can contribute to the formation of MSD. A job is considered highly repetitive if the cycle time is 30 seconds or less.

  2. Forceful exertions. Many work tasks require high force loads on the human body. Muscle effort increases in response to high force requirements, increasing associated fatigue which can lead to MSD.

  3. Repetitive or sustained awkward postures. Awkward postures place excessive force on joints and overload the muscles and tendons around the effected joint. Joints of the body are most efficient when they operate closest to the mid-range motion of the joint. Risk of MSD is increased when joints are worked outside of this mid-range repetitively or for sustained periods of time without adequate recovery time.

Exposure to these workplace risk factors puts workers at a higher level of MSD risk. It’s common sense; high task repetition, forceful exertions and repetitive/sustained awkward postures fatigue the worker’s body beyond their ability to recover, leading to a musculoskeletal imbalance and eventually an MSD.

Individual risk factors include:

  • Poor work practices. Workers who use poor work practices, body mechanics and lifting techniques are introducing unnecessary risk factors that can contribute to MSD. These poor practices create unnecessary stress on their bodies that increases fatigue and decreases their body’s ability to properly recover.

  • Poor overall health habits. Workers who smoke, drink excessively, are obese, or exhibit numerous other poor health habits are putting themselves at risk for not only musculoskeletal disorders, but also for other chronic diseases that will shorten their life and health span.

  • Poor rest and recovery. MSD develop when fatigue outruns the workers recovery system, causing a musculoskeletal imbalance. Workers who do not get adequate rest and recovery put themselves at higher risk.

  • Poor nutrition, fitness and hydration. For a country as developed as the United States, an alarming number of people are malnourished, dehydrated and at such a poor level of physical fitness that climbing one flight of stairs puts many people out of breath. Workers who do not take care of their bodies are putting themselves at a higher risk of developing musculoskeletal and chronic health problems.

Exposure to these individual risk factors puts workers at a higher level of MSD risk. Just like workplace risk factors, individual risk factors are common sense:  when a worker uses poor work practice, has bad health habits, doesn’t get adequate rest and recovery and doesn’t take care of their bodies with a good nutrition and fitness regimen, they are at greater risk for fatigue to outrun their recovery system. Having a poor overall health profile puts them at greater risk of developing a musculoskeletal imbalance and eventually an MSD.

What to do about it?

I have previous written an article on this subject. You can find it here. It’s on Danish but feel free to contact me for insights. I´ll also urge you to check out a new technology that can measure load and risk. This could be a big gamechanger for both individuals and companies. Check it out here.

Let’s start saving some money!