The 2016 edition of National Safety Council Injury Facts® was released recently and it noted that strain/sprain injuries represent about 36% of workplace injuries that involve days away from work.The common industries where strain injuries occur include retail, manufacturing, hospitality, transportation and construction. Zurich’s own claim data mirrors this result, with about 38% of lost-time worker injuries relating to strain injuries. The most common body parts involved are the lower back and shoulders. Most strain injuries occur during material-handling activities through lifting, pushing and pulling.
There are ways to improve material-handling tasks and reduce strain injuries. Here are a few tips:
- Adjust the dynamics of the material-handling activity
Lifting is easiest and safest when performed in the zone approximately between the knees and the shoulders and optimum at about waist height. Any adjustment that can be made to the work area that allows the material movement to stay in this zone will minimize the stresses on the back, arms, shoulders and legs.
- Alter the load
Several factors can improve the load or loads in material handling: the weight, the size and shape, and how easy the load is to grasp and move. Any adjustments that can be made in these areas will improve the load and minimize injuries. Making the load lighter will minimize stress. If possible, adjusting the size and shape of the material being handled or even putting smaller objects in a larger container will minimize unnecessary stresses on the arms and back, making the loads easier to move and carry. Finally, using handles, grips that are easy to grasp and lift assist devices when applicable will minimize strain as the load is moved.
- Minimize the reach/stretch needed
Unnecessary reaching places stress on the back, shoulders and arms. Keeping the material to be moved as close to the body as possible will help reduce exposures. Also, consider minimizing reaches over the shoulder, stretching and reaches that require leaning or bending over.
- Modify work areas to minimize twisting
Material-handling activities should be designed so that twisting of the back is not needed. Repetitive twisting places unnecessary strain on back muscles. Adjustments should be made to the work activity and work area to allow full turning of the entire body. Employee education may also be needed to combat the perception that it is easier or quicker to twist with a load, rather than move the whole body.
- Use material-handling aides
Whenever possible, aides should be used to minimize the impact of the task. If object weight and size warrant it, a hoist or other device should be considered. A lift table can help adjust object heights into the optimum lifting zone. Either two- or four-wheeled carts can be used to minimize the amount of time objects need to be carried. If the load is substantial enough, a forklift, hand jack or similar device should be used.
- Employee training
Workers should be educated on proper lifting techniques and the best ways to minimize twisting, reaching and stretching; ways to judge the weight of loads and when to ask for help. Training may also need to include the safe and efficient operation of material-handling devices. Also, a company-sponsored stretching program with work-specific stretches at the beginning of a shift, mid-shift and end of shift may help employees increase their overall flexibility and range-of-motion, making the muscles less prone to trauma, tears and other types of strain- and sprain-related injuries.
Taking the time to review material-handling tasks and perform employee education can reduce strain injuries, improve employee morale and sustain productivity.