What can an employer do to reduce physical stress in the workplace?
Work positions, movements, use of force, methods and surroundings all put strain on the musculoskeletal system. If a load is not at an appropriate height for lifting, such an action when done incorrectly, can impair the employees health over time and lead to serious injury.
Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD's) are a common reason for sick leave. At their worst, they can often cause permanent disability.
Factors contributing to MSD's
- physically heavy work
- handling loads (such as lifting, moving, pushing and pulling)
- static or difficult working positions (such as hunching or reaching for objects)
- constantly sitting or standing still
- using manual force (such as turning or twisting)
- repetitive work
Different types of work are susceptible to different types of strain. Sectors such as agriculture, construction, transport, fire and rescue services and healthcare involve heavy or demanding physical work. Occupations in industry, installation/maintenance and the service sector, as well as office work, also involve various musculoskeletal strain factors.
What can you do?
Taking care of your musculoskeletal system is important. Your muscles and joints stay healthy only when you move and maintain muscle mass. Everyone can improve their physical wellbeing by exercising variedly, avoiding weight gain and getting sufficient rest. At work it is essential to follow any safety instructions, take refreshing micro-breaks regularly and make safety-related suggestions actively.
The employer is responsible for ensuring employees do not experience harmful stress at work. The planning stages workspaces, processes and working methods should involve ergonomics early on. Employers have several ways of managing the physical strain of employee's:
Guidelines and Policies
Prepare instructions for avoiding physical strain during work. For example, you should have instructions and easy-to-use checklists for lifting and moving objects and for workspace ergonomics.
On-site instruction or videos are recommended for teaching correct posture.
Introduce employees to the instructions and repeat regularly.
In addition to consulting occupational health and safety experts, it is important to involve your employees when preparing instructions. Click below for our guide on workplace ergonomics.
The supervisor is responsible for ensuring safe methods are used and intervening if a person seems overstrained. There cannot be too many discussions about health and safety. Supervisors should encourage subordinates to pay attention to health at work and to maintain their physical wellbeing outside of work.
If an employee is experiencing symptoms, the supervisor, possibly in conjunction with healthcare professionals or specialists, should have an individual discussion with the employee concerning work ability. The goal is to find a solution for reducing symptoms and for the person to continue working using modified means or to work temporarily on more suitable tasks.
Acquire suitable assistive devices and improve workspaces
There are assistive devices and technical structures available for many types of manual work, which make the work easier. Often, appropriate working clothes and shoes also improve ergonomics.
Examples: A workstation to avoid reaching for objects; a load reducer for lifting if machinery for handling loads is not available; proper handles on boxes to ensure a good grip.
Develop work methods
You can discuss ideas for improving safety with employees and experts.
Examples: Healthcare professionals will work in pairs to move patients; the contents of a heavy bag will be divided into two bags; a technician will carry their manual tools in a backpack or equipment belt instead of a toolbox.
Identify and assess hazards regularly
When identifying physical hazards, you should pay attention to the suitability of the following elements:
(e.g. the size of the space, workstation, chair, surface, lighting, draft, opportunity to change positions) and when using a computer (e.g. the position of the screen, keyboard and mouse)
- Manual lifting and moving
- Repetitive work done with arms and hands
Hazard identification and assessment should be implemented regularly and whenever employees change workspaces or tasks. Even remote work premises should be inspected. Necessary improvements should be implemented without delay.
The assessment of physical hazards is often included in the observation rounds made in workplaces.
When needed, occupational health services also carry out ergonomic surveys related to the same topics.
Encourage safety observations
You should encourage employees to make observations and initiatives regarding physical risks. Reporting makes people more sensitive to recognising physical factors and allows them to improve their work further.
Employers can impact employees’ physical health significantly through consistent actions. The earlier you make improvements, the better. Improvements reduce costs for employers and benefit employees’ wellbeing.
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