By Dr. Leonard M. Okun
Businesses usually know how to play it safe when it comes to injuries on the job, but recent trends show that mid-size companies haven’t been so careful.
According to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the total injury and illness incidence rate is highest among private businesses with 50 – 249 workers.
Since April is Injury Prevention Month, there’s no better time to remind employees – and refresh employers – about the most common injuries and how to avoid them.
As an occupational doctor for more than 30 years, I’ve seen a broad range of injuries, but the most common – and completely avoidable – injuries are strains, cuts, punctures, bruises, contusions, and, of course, fractures.
So how do employees fall into the accident trap?
Many times the culprit that leads to injury is an object that the employee hits, like a misplaced table that connects with the knee or a heavy box that they misjudge and comes crashing down on their head.
Also not properly using or maintaining equipment – no matter how mundane – often leads to injury.
Not watching where they’re walking, tripping and falling, especially on carpeted stairways if you’re wearing heels.
Another common one — exposure to known harmful substances or environments like chemicals and pesticides.
Most, if not all of these, are preventable.
As an employer, ensuring that employees follow all health and safety procedures is a must, but there are many other common sense preventative measures businesses can take to help avoid injuries.
For example, the statistics show that floors and walkways are the most common sources for workplace injuries, so some precautions employers can take include hiding cables that could be in the way, providing warning signs if an area is temporarily slippery or wet, cleaning the floor regularly and providing sufficient lighting and hand rails wherever applicable.
Strains to the neck and back are commonly seen when workers are performing either a repetitive motion or lifting heavy objects. To avoid this, workers should first consider the following:
- Assess the weight of the object
- Know your lifting limit
- Examine the object for potential hazards
- Ask for help if needed, or divide the load to make it lighter
- Make sure the area around you is free of clutter
- Lift with your legs and keep the object close to your body
While not always severe, ailments from working at a desk are common and can be debilitating to employees. To avoid injuries such as soreness or fatigue, it’s crucial to keep in mind the following:
- Sit fully back in your chair
- Your elbows should be bent to 90 degrees with your wrists in a neutral position
- Your mouse should be located at the same level as the keyboard, immediately beside
- The top of your monitor screen should be at eye level, except if you’re wearing bifocals
- For optimum viewing distance, your monitor should be an arm’s length away
- Incorporate stretching or exercising breaks throughout the workday to reduce neck, lower back and upper extremity fatigue
No matter how minor or severe an injury may be, avoiding workplace dangers is best done through awareness and preventative measures. And while this month may be the time for injury prevention, keeping your employees and workplace safe is something to celebrate every day.
And, in these days when every business is watching its costs, it may also lighten your company’s workers’ compensation claims.
Dr. Leonard M. Okun is the national medical director for Valencia, Calif.-based U.S. HealthWorks, which has 159 clinics and worksites in 15 states.