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What are MSDs and how can ergonomics prevent them?

Regardless of your occupation, your employer must provide a workplace free of recognized hazards. Some known risks such as those that cause musculoskeletal disorders exist in almost all workplaces. High MSD-risk industries in Pennsylvania include construction, firefighting, health care, food processing, office jobs, warehousing, transportation and others.

Exposure to known risk factors will increase your chances of developing an MSD. Work-related events or exposures that can lead to illness or injury include overexertion, repetitive motions, jarring vibrations or anything that rubs or abrades against your skin.

What are musculoskeletal disorders?

MSDs are disorders that affect blood vessels, nerves, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Any of your tasks that involve lifting heavy objects, reaching overhead, bending, pulling and pushing heavy loads can cause MSDs. Other risky duties include those that require you to work in an awkward body posture or when your job requires you to perform the same repetitive motions for hours on end. The following are examples of MSDs:

  • Tendinitis: A tendon is a thick cord that attaches a muscle to a bone. This condition is the irritation or inflammation of a tendon.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: This is one of the most common MSDs that involves numbness, tingling and pain in the arm and hand.
  • Epicondylitis: This condition causes irritation and pain in the tissue that connects the muscle in the forearm to the elbow, and some call it tennis elbow.
  • Trigger finger: Some repetitive tasks can cause any of your fingers to be stuck in a bent position and to then snap back to a straight position like the trigger of a gun.
  • Rotator cuff injuries: This painful condition involves tears in the tendons that connect the muscles to the shoulder joint.
  • Low back injuries: Muscle strains in the lower back can cause chronic pain.

Your employer can prevent work-related MSDs by fitting each job to the person, a process called ergonomics.

What is an ergonomic study?

Ergonomics is a study that adapts work environments to people by modifying working conditions to suit each worker. Implementing ergonomics can reduce the MSD risks in a workplace. For the process to be effective, management commitment and support are essential, and the following steps are important:

  • Problem identification: Timely assessment and identification of ergonomic problems can prevent MSDs before they develop.
  • Employee involvement: Allow workers to participate in developing and implementing the ergonomic standards. They can provide valuable input about the workplace hazards.
  • Provide training: Adequate training can help workers to understand the concept and benefits of ergonomics.
  • Encourage reporting: Once workers understand ergonomics, encouraging them to report early MSD symptoms can prevent conditions from developing into severe injuries.
  • Ongoing evaluations: The ergonomic process is not a one-time action but an ongoing process that needs periodic assessment. This is to ensure it remains effective as changes take place in the work environment and new employees sign on.

While workers can benefit from ergonomic changes in their work environments, not all business owners prioritize employee health and safety. If your workplace exposes you to MSD risks, you may fall victim to a condition that leaves you with chronic pain and discomfort.

Workers' compensation

Although the Pennsylvania workers' compensation insurance system covers MSDs, proving that your job caused your condition might be challenging -- mainly because some of these conditions develop gradually, and they are not as evident as broken bones and other obvious injuries. This is where the skills of an experienced workers' compensation attorney come in. A lawyer can navigate the claims process for you in pursuit of maximum available benefits to cover your medical expenses and lost wages.

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