Health & Wellness Topic of the Month
Article written by:
Michael G. Cassaro, M.D., J.D.
The modern workplace is much different from the workplace of a generation ago. Official data indicates that modern manufacturing is safer than it was a generation ago. Jobs are more automated and there are far more regulations controlling the work environment.
In your manufacturing operation, optimum performance depends upon your employees being at work, and being fully functional. Avoiding employee turnover, lost workdays, and work restrictions is preferred to the alternative. After all, as Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The most common degenerative condition associated with the work environment is spine and joint arthritis. In manufacturing, repetitive strain, poor posture, vibration, and impact are the most likely contributors to employee impairment from the joint degeneration of arthritis.
Here are seven tips for keeping your workforce fully functional for the long haul:
1. Encourage employees to stretch frequently. An employee can stretch, bend and go through a quick range of motion for the neck, shoulders and back, even while working. At sitting workstations, stand frequently, if only for a few seconds. People are designed to move. People that don't move enough, deteriorate faster and have poorer health over all. There are many regulations designed to prevent workplace injuries acute injuries, which can reduce long-term degenerative conditions. However, the best work floors can still contribute. Observe your workforce. Pay attention to potential problems. Be proactive. Remember, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
2. Avoid vibration. Employees who work with vibrating machinery are more susceptible to spinal degenerative conditions. Unfortunately, padding does very little to prevent long-term consequences. If the vibrating machinery is operated with the hands, encourage employees to keep the elbows bent, to act as a shock absorber. If the operator is seated on or in vibrating equipment, limiting the number of weeks on the work station may help reduce the effects of accumulating micro trauma.
3. Avoid the combination of lifting and twisting. Whenever someone lifts and then turns an object, there is an increased risk for disk injury. A load that could be easily lifted, or even carried in front of the body, can be enough to split the fibers holding a disk together in the low back. The disks have a tough, fibrous outside, with a gel center. When lifting, the center is under pressure. Twisting while the center is under pressure is similar to twisting a tube of those ready to bake dinner rolls. Once the outer cardboard splits, there is no getting the rolls back in the packaging.
4. Do not rely on back support belts to enhance lifting ability. Back support belts may be good, but they do not enhance lifting ability. Lifts, cranes, or assist devices are more likely to prevent injury than a back-support belt, especially for heavy lifting.
5. Provide standing workstations. Standing workstations should have a footrest, so employees can alternate one foot on the rest at a time. While standing, people have greater agility and reach than when sitting. Slight movements, even a step or two, can keep leg muscles pumping. While stationary, propping one foot on a foot rest, is good for the low back. Caution employees against locking their knees.
6. Provide workstations that can change between sitting and standing. This is especially important for those who would otherwise sit all day. There are definite benefits to using stand-up desks compared to sitting desks. However, keep in mind that a chance to sit may help save your employees’ knees. Moderation is the key.
7. Adjust computer monitors so the bottom of the monitor is at eye level. Use the mouse and keyboard on a shelf, under the desktop. The objective is for user to be looking up, slightly. This eliminates the need to flex the neck forward while looking at the screen. By having the keyboard and mouse below the desktop, the shoulders can relax, and hang down naturally.