According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), musculoskeletal disorders – also known as MSDs – can account for as many as one-third of the total workplace illnesses and injuries that occur every year. Although they happen frequently, most musculoskeletal disorders are actually preventable. Data shows that when an employer takes the appropriate precautionary measures, workers can face fewer risks of developing MSDs.
A musculoskeletal disorder is considered as any type of injury or pain located in the ligaments, joints, muscles, tendons, nerves and/or structures that work together to support a person’s neck, back and limbs. MSDs can also affect blood vessels and vertebral discs. Some of the most common musculoskeletal disorders are epicondylitis (commonly referred to as “tennis elbow”), carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, rotator cuff injuries, tendinitis, muscle strains and lower back injuries.
Trigger finger is a painful condition that can cause a person’s fingers or thumbs to lock or catch when bent. This condition results from inflammation in the tendons, which causes difficulty in movement. Tendons are thick cords throughout the body that attach bones and muscles. Similarly, epicondylitis also affects the tendons; in this case, the ones in the forearm and/or wrist are damaged, causing pain and other issues. There are an array of rotator cuff injuries a person can develop including bursitis, muscle tears or tendonitis.
Tendonitis is any type of irritation or inflammation of the body’s tendons. Carpal tunnel syndrome affects a person’s hands and causes tingling, numbness, pain, weakness and other problems. Depending on what kind of MSD a person has, the path of diagnosis and treatment will vary. In some cases, surgical repair will be necessary. Surgery comes with serious risks, like infection, complications from anesthesia, bleeding problems, blood clots, delayed healing and sometimes, even death.
OSHA reports that when a job involves lifting heavy items, overhead reaching, pushing and pulling smaller loads, bending and working in awkward body positions that musculoskeletal disorders are more likely to occur. When workers are required to perform similar tasks repetitively, the likelihood of MSDs also increases.
Although every worker is at risk for musculoskeletal disorders, certain professions have higher incidence rates. These professions include non-construction laborers, nurses, orderlies and attendants, carpenters, cashiers, assemblers, janitors, cleaners and custodians, stock handlers and baggers as well as construction laborers.
MSDs pose a serious health risk to workers. Some will lose time and pay as a result of their injuries, and others will require medical testing, prescription medications, physical rehabilitation, therapy or surgery. Some individuals will never recover from their musculoskeletal disorders and will be permanently disabled. Because the hazards are so severe, employers need to prioritize working hard to ensure that all workers are comprehensively protected.
OSHA mandates that all employers provide safe workplaces that are free from recognizable hazards. They are also legally required to provide safety and training seminars to workers, provide medical examinations and training and make sure that all workers have access to safe tools and work equipment. To protect workers against musculoskeletal disorders, OSHA advises that they employ ergonomics, or “fitting a job to a person”.
Loosely understood as the process of arranging or designing a workplace – including its systems and products – to fit the people who use them, ergonomics involves adapting tasks, tools, work stations and equipment to fit workers, as well as to reduce the overall risks of physical stress and injury that face them. OSHA reports that when employers use ergonomics, MSDs that are the result of workplace injuries can be almost completely eliminated.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recognizes that musculoskeletal disorders are a major hazard for American workers. The chances of MSDs increase exponentially when employers fail to follow federal regulations, provide safe equipment and tools to workers, overwork employees or fail to give sufficient breaks. The knowledge that ergonomics can inhibit the risks associated with MSDs is critical – and can save hundreds of thousands of workers who suffer from preventable injuries every year.
When a worker is injured on the job and has an MSD, he or she may experience any of the following general symptoms:
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should see a doctor right away. The Cleveland Clinic reports that other common symptoms to look out for may include:
It is crucial to report any and all workplace injuries or illnesses as soon as they occur, so that everything is adequately documented. To read more about general symptoms and warning signs to look out for from the Cleveland Clinic, please visit: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/musculoskeletal-pain.
Too many workers are injured and develop musculoskeletal disorders every year. OSHA reports that there are more than 600,000 reported MSDs in the workplace annually, and that there is anywhere between $15-20 billion in workers’ compensation costs. There are simple, effective and inexpensive steps that every single employer can take to limit MSD hazards in the workplace. Some of the most helpful include:
To read more about preventing MSDs and how ergonomics can help, please click here: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/.
If you or a loved one was injured in the workplace, please contact our Workers’ Compensation lawyers in Allentown at Galfand Berger. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Reading, and Lancaster, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.