Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) in the form of overexertion sprains and strains and repetitive trauma disorders continue to claim two of the top ten most common workplace injuries. It has become a huge cost to employers as the 2013 estimates for these conditions combined exceed $16 billion dollars. Employers are addressing these conditions by looking at ways to prevent the issue from happening, detect the issue early, and utilize an effective solution to manage the conditions.
Prevention is key and begins with an analysis of the workers environment. Typically this is referred to an ergonomist. These professionals analyze the workers environment to increase efficiency and decrease disorders arising from any undue stressors. Simply put, ergonomics fits the job to the person.
Educating employees on early detection of MSD is necessary to minimize impact on productivity and to increase the likelihood of quick resolution of the condition. When the symptoms of MSD are minimal and in the early stages conservative, first aid care can help speed the recovery process without the need for more costly interventions and can minimize productivity loss.
An effective conservative solution for resolving minor MSD conditions can start on-site. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides a list of what is considered first aid for record keeping purposes (https://www.osha.gov/recordkeeping/firstaid_list.pdf). Using massage on-site is considered first aid when provided for employees for work or non-work related conditions that have not been through the workers compensation system. Massage can be effective in reducing pain and inflammation and increasing range of motion.
In 2007 Intel began a pilot program to provide on-site massage to their employees to help combat MSDs. The study looked at changes in pain level as scored by the employees before and after the sessions and pre- and post pilot modified Work Limitations Questionnaire analysis. What the researchers found was that the employees reported a 2.14% increase in productivity over the five-week period.
Employees also reported decreases in pain level over the five weeks. 79% of the participants reported their pain level falling below a 5 out of 10 on the visual analog scale, while 21% reported pain remaining at around a 5 out of 10.
Employee reported satisfaction survey revealed that 99% felt the massage had improved their condition, with 55% of those indicating great improvement.
An impactful part of the study involved written feedback from 44% of the participants. The comments included decreased pain, increased flexibility and range of motion, improved posture and awareness of posture and increase in productivity.
Though the outcome of the study was overall positive and the consensus is that adding massage on-site for employees is helpful more studies need to be performed to validate cost-savings for these types of programs. ROI is difficult to calculate and at best is an educated guess. While looking at previous claim data can provide some predictions, overall occurrence of MSDs in the workplace cannot be predicted accurately. It’s like predicting which car on the highway will be in an accident and how severe that accident will be. We can study driving habits, driver attention and vehicle dynamics but overall accidents cannot be predicted.
Educating employees about the signs and symptoms and early detection of overexertion and repetitive motion disorders and providing a simple, on-site solution for them to manage those conditions quickly can be beneficial.