As working men and women begin returning to jobs after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, we urge them to ease back into physically demanding work to avoid injury. Thousands of workers’ compensation claims in Kentucky each year, particularly for back injuries, are due to musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries caused by overexertion.
Employers should prepare for the possibility of physical deconditioning among workers as employees restart work. Injuries can reduce productivity and product quality in addition to the harm suffered by employees.
Below, we’ve gathered suggestions for how to avoid costly injuries at work after a months-long cessation of physical activity. At Morgan, Collins, Yeast & Salyer, our attorneys help injured workers obtain workers’ compensation benefits that keep them financially sound after injuries suffered on the job. Many of the workers we’ve helped will never fully recover physically from their debilitating work injuries. Let’s take steps now to avoid suffering unnecessary injuries in Kentucky’s workplaces.
Employers Should Focus on Health, Fitness and Well-Being
Employers, managers and supervisors set the tone at the workplace. Now is the time to ensure that your job sites and workers adhere to CDC-compliant COVID-19 protocols and to communicate to employees that you expect them to prioritize their health and each other’s safety.
Don’t overlook the possibility that many of your employees don’t understand or are misinformed about the coronavirus, how it spreads, its symptoms and preventative measures for avoiding it.
Ensure that your employees understand that they should tell their supervisors about any discomfort they are experiencing from job activities and report any potential COVID-19 symptoms or exposure they have experienced.
“Leadership can make or break a job in terms of production, quality and safety. It’s vital to remember that a leader’s actions speak louder than his words,” says Andrew Baird, senior risk technical consultant at Builders Mutual, a workers’ compensation insurer and risk management consultancy. “If a leader’s actions do not demonstrate a commitment to safety, then his or her workers will most likely take more risks, which will lead to more accidents and injuries.”
Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) magazine suggests that employees returning to work may have been sedentary during the six months of COVID-19 shutdown.
Inactivity over that amount of time can lead to:
- Reduced muscle strength
- Reduced cardiovascular fitness
- Reduced physical endurance
- Reduced range of motion
- Increased whole-body fatigue
- Weight gain.
Such physical deconditioning can cause workers’ bodies to be more susceptible to injury from musculoskeletal stress and strain caused by lifting, reaching, bending, climbing, squatting, or repetitive motions.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) may affect as much as one third of the workforce in construction industry trades. A new injury could easily put a worker off the job and on workers’ comp.
MSDs include cases where the nature of the injury is:
- Pinched nerve
- Herniated disc
- Meniscus tear
- Sprains, strains, tears
- Pain, swelling and numbness
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Raynaud’s syndrome or phenomenon
- Overexertion involving outside sources
- Repetitive motion injuries
- Vibrating tool injuries
- Musculoskeletal system and connective tissue diseases and disorders when the event or exposure leading to the injury or illness is unspecified overexertion and bodily reaction.
Safety Tips for Returning to Work
Workplace safety tips for the resumption of job duties after the lockdown offered by OH&S magazine and HumanTech, a workplace ergonomics consultancy, include the following:
- Ensure that employees have all the necessary tools and equipment available to them and that they are in proper working conditions.
- Review standard operating procedures (SOPs) and reduce non-value-added activity. Consider changing workstation layouts, rearranging at-hand tools and equipment or other efficiencies. You may need to devise ways to mechanically transport products between workstations to ensure physical distancing.
- Limit job rotation. Rotating jobs may lead to an increased spread of germs between common touchpoints. It also has the potential to increase the workplace injury rate because it increases the number of employees exposed to high-risk jobs.
- Encourage breaks and limit overtime hours. Workers who have been inactive may need additional time for muscle recovery, and breaks will lead to less muscle fatigue and lower risk of injury. Employers should also consider having more employees work fewer hours, as opposed to having fewer employees work more hours.
A Builders Mutual essay about avoiding injury in heavy-lifting jobs says any company can benefit from starting each workday with a stretching program. “Ask your employees to break into crews and stretch for 5 to 10 minutes first thing every morning. … Light stretching of legs, arms and neck gets the blood flowing and loosens limbs to take care of tight muscles and reduce injury risk.”
Ergonomics for Reduction of Workplace MSD Injuries
Following the tips above will help to establish ergonomic standards in your workplace. Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the workforce. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that employers, employees and other parties working together with an understanding of ergonomics can design effective programs to prevent and minimize occupational musculoskeletal disorders.
OSHA says “implementing an ergonomic process is effective in reducing the risk of developing MSDs in high-risk industries as diverse as construction, food processing, firefighting, office jobs, healthcare, transportation and warehousing.” Reducing these work-related injuries ultimately reduces a business’s costs and losses.
OSHA offers a variety of ergonomic training resources online and can dispatch consultants from state agencies or universities to work with small and medium-sized businesses to identify workplace hazards, advise about compliance with OSHA standards and assist in establishing safety and health management systems.
Contact a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer If You’ve Been Injured on the Job
Workers who suffer occupational injuries or illnesses deserve to receive workers’ compensation benefits promised to them by Kentucky law without having to fight the insurance company while they are struggling with their injuries. At Morgan, Collins, Yeast & Salyer, our Kentucky workers’ compensation lawyers will fight for you.
Phone (877) 809-5352 or contact us online today to put our brand of Kentucky Courage™ and legal knowledge and experience to work for you.