A frequently underestimated source of pain, suffering and expense is workplace related injuries. Whether the condition is created due to the work environment or exacerbates an underlying condition, billions of dollars of both direct medical costs and indirect costs due to absenteeism and lost productivity are incurred. Current estimates are that work related conditions account for $250 billion in expenses which is at least as large as the expense for cancer in this country .
The typical workplace injuries envisioned are those related to construction or high risk occupations but these represent a very small fraction of total jobs. Since 86% of the workforce are in an office setting, there is a large amount of injury even in this apparently innocuous environment. Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSD) injuries are number one cause of claims in US.
Some of the most frequent claims include
- Wrist and hand symptoms (Carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Repetitive stress injuries involving the shoulder and elbow
- Neck pain and discomfort
- Low back pain and discomfort
- Degenerative arthritis
- Visual symptoms related to eye fatigue including computer vision syndrome
Unfortunately most people develop these conditions and then seek help. Especially with repetitive stress injuries, the ability to treat the conditions is an enormous challenge since usually the worker is required to engage in the activity once again when symptoms abate.
Few employers or workers prophylactically address potential opportunities to mitigate the risks of these conditions. Prevention is the best approach to addressing these mounting problems in the workplace. Effective interventions include a complete ergonomics workplace and workstation evaluation by a trained professional. The risk for developing work related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) is increasing. The references below include the “Workplace Ergonomics Reference Guide 2nd Edition, A Publication of the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program” (5) Provide checklists and specific recommendations for workplace evaluation.
In my work as a radiologist, I faced many of the above issues with premature spondylosis requiring two major spinal fusions. I made every effort to minimize the repetitive trauma I endured with a recumbent workstation and using optimum monitors, chairs and desks. I worked with a team of dedicated professionals with expertise in office ergonomics. They not only recommended specific equipment but ways to perform my job to minimize my symptoms. The lighting was also adjusted for minimizing eye fatigue. It was surprising to me to that when I discussed my problems at work, I heard over half my colleagues voice similar concerns and conditions but most were suffering in silence.
Specific recommendations of the CDC for workplace actions to address WMSD include:
1. Look for signs of a potential WMSD in the workplace, such as frequent worker reports of aches and pains or tasks requiring repetitive forceful exertions (health care costs, health outcomes) and act to reduce them
2. Show management commitment by addressing possible problems and encouraging worker involvements in problem-solving activities (organizational change)
3. Offer training to expand management and worker ability to evaluate potential WMSD (health outcomes, organizational change)
4. Gather data to identify jobs or work conditions that are most problematic, using sources such as injury and illness logs, medical records, and job analyses (health outcomes)
5. Identify effective controls for tasks that pose a risk of WMSD and evaluate these approaches once they have been instituted to see if they have reduced or eliminated the problem (organizational change)
6. Establish health care management to emphasize the importance of early detection and treatment of WMSD for preventing impairment and disability (health outcomes)
7. Minimize risk factors for WMSD when planning new work processes and operations (organizational change) (3)
Employers are obligated to address work related injuries but not necessarily address them prophylactically. Research on preventative programs has shown measurable benefits to employees. (1) Actual calculation of the ROI should show decreased medical expenses, absenteeism and higher productivity.
While desk job may not be viewed as high risk, there are numerous conditions which can result in pain, and injury. Taking advantage of the expertise of a workplace ergonomics specialist and the amazing devices/equipment available to mitigate injury is wise. One additional benefit of a proactive ergonomics program is improvements in measures of well being including increased job satisfaction and greater happiness at work. Speak Up!! Maintaining a healthy workplace needs to become a higher priority for both employees and businesses.
Nicolas Argy, MD, JD
Copyright © 2016 Nicolas Argy
- Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 58th Annual Meeting – 2014 PROACTIVE OFFICE ERGONOMICS REALLY WORKS Alan Hedge1 and Jonathan Puleio Cornell University, Dept. Design and Environmental Analysis, Ithaca NY 14853,
- Design & Environmental Analysis 670 Class Term Project | Radiology Workplace Assessment Client | Henry Ford Hospital - Radiology Department Coordinated by | Carl Zylak Professor Alan Hedge Cornell University Spring 2007 Submitted by: Anshu Agarwal Alisha Belk Katie Boothroyd May 9, 2007