Overexertion: The Real Issue

If you hadn’t read this title and someone asked you, “What is the top cause of musculoskeletal injury in the workplace?” what would your reply be? Chances are you would have said repetitive motion injuries.

Overexertion injuries top the list of workplace related musculoskeletal disorders reported in 2016 in regards to the data from the 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For comparison, in 1998 the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index reported from the BLS overexertion injury cost approximately $9.8 billion dollars. For 2013 they reported an estimated cost of $15 billion dollars. Compared to the estimate for repetitive motion injuries costing approximately $1.8 billion dollars in 2013.

There are differences in the two terms and how injuries are classified and recorded. Repetitive motion injuries are just that, injuries caused by repeatedly performing a specific motion as a part of a task. The term doesn’t necessarily take in to account force applied to the motion, but it is thought that continuous use causes excessive strain on the tissues leading to swelling and ultimately pain or neurologic symptoms.

Overexertion injuries occur when performing work beyond a persons’ physical capacity exceeds the tolerance of the tissues involved. In simple terms, the physical demand of the task is greater than the physical capacity of the worker. Age, flexibility and physical conditioning are among the many factors involved in overexertion injuries. These are typically reported as either sprains or strains.

Sprains and strains in the shoulder and low back are the top contenders for most costly work related injuries. The typical causes for these injuries include poor posture for extender time periods, lifting while bending and twisting at the waist, reaching, pushing, pulling, and carrying objects for long distances.

There are numerous solutions and they vary with the different types of tasks being performed be employees. Most companies will start with an ergonomic solution to help reduce the risk of fatigue or strain. These remedies involve adapting the task to the employees’ abilities. Modifications of tasks to include decreasing loads carried, minimizing the amount of reaching, pulling, and pushing. One of the major causes of overexertion reported is bending and twisting at the waist. Eliminating tasks that involve this motion is a must.

Another important solution involves employee education. Teaching employees proper lifting techniques, knowing when to get help for heavy items and taking frequent micro-breaks are a just a few easy to implement items that may help reduce the occurrences of overexertion issues. Educating employees on early recognition of strain and sprain issues can help reduce worker compensation costs by treating those conditions before they turn in to more costly issues.