Ergonomics as Hand Protection
By Tracy Hansen, Contributor
When we think of hand protection we often think of gloves: gloves with myriad materials and surfaces and flex to protect working hands on the job. But, hand protection is more than what you put over the hands; it is also how you use them. If you are not working smartly; if you are not considering tools and workflows as a part of the analysis—hands are still at risk. Ergonomic considerations are just as important as glove considerations.
You do not need to go far to find proof. According to OSHA, work-related musculoskeletal diseases (MSDs) are the most frequent cause of lost or restricted work time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that MSD cases account for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases. MSDs are a group of repetitive task-related injuries with familiar names, like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis or muscle/tendon strain.
These are afflictions you probably would not think much about until you experience an MSD personally. This kind of injury can impact your life, your work productivity and even prevent you from playing favorite sports. For workers in many fields, it can mean time away from work and have an impact on livelihood.
DIRECT & INDIRECT COSTS OF MSDs
For businesses, the impact of an MSD is no less dire. According to the Northeast Business Group on Health, employers spend more on MSDs directly than any other condition. The indirect costs of MSDs are even higher and include absenteeism, disability claims, overuse or misuse of pharmaceuticals, and behavioral health treatment. By some estimates, this cost is in excess of $100 billion/year.
To address the consequences of MSDs, preventative measures are most essential. Get out in front of the problem before it happens. This is because once an injury occurs, the options for treatment—both surgical and non-surgical—have varying degrees of success. In both cases, it may take months or even years of treatment to arrive at an acceptable outcome.
It is important for organizations to actively evaluate tools and tasks in the work environment to help prevent MSDs. When safer alternatives are prioritized, it reduces costs; reduces worker downtime; and helps to prevent the onset of life-changing injuries.
One of the simplest and most impactful measures to consider is an evaluation of repetitive tasks. The improper use of a mouse and keyboard is a well-known cause of hand strain and carpel tunnel syndrome. Instead of awkward angles and locations, make sure keyboards and workstations are situated properly for the task and the workflow.
Other key questions to ask: How often is the workstation needed? Is it shared between workers? At what height is it most easily accessed and used by the worker? Is typing so constant that an ergonomic keyboard with raised center section is required? Does a mouse or trackpad make the most sense in the working environment? Should the workstation be ditched altogether, in favor of a mobile smart phone device in the pocket of the worker? Look at the issue from every angle—there might be more than one obvious fix.
Repetitive strain in materials handling is another common source of injury. Much is written about best practices for the lifting and gripping of large, heavy objects. But, even the ergonomics of small tools can be a challenge. A perfect example of this: using a traditional, handheld barcode scanner in the process of moving goods. With each item in each step of a typical process, the scanner is lifted and gripped to capture a scan. An ultralight, wearable barcode scanner is a great alternative because, just like wearing a watch, it’s always at arm length when you need it. There’s nothing additional to reach for, nor to grip, nor to lift.
In our own study of warehouse workers, we discovered that simply wearing a lightweight barcode scanner saved each worker from lifting approximately 1.5 tons per shift. That’s equivalent to the weight of a small car! It also prevented the disruption of workflow by having to reach for a handheld scanner.
When frontline workers can move more naturally through their daily work operations, managers can expect fewer injuries and higher productivity. Among the top things managers can do is to partner with frontline workers in problem solving for ergonomics—to select the right tools and tactics to make the job safer. By fostering a culture of safety and ensuring a free-flowing environment of exchange and communication, you can expect a reduction in absences, worker compensation claims and employee turnover.
MSD-related injuries might be less visible than other kinds of hand injuries, but they’re no less important. In any evaluation of hand protection equipment, don’t neglect to consider the whole human in the process. WMHS
About the Author
Tracy Hansen is President of North America and Global CMO for ProGlove, a leader in ergonomic, wearable devices for industry. She brings more than two decades of strategic brand-building experience at startups, scale-ups and Fortune 500 firms to the role. She is a student of “disruptive innovation,” championing ideas that stretch boundaries, mobilize teams and deliver business breakthroughs.
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