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Acting on ergonomic advice can reduce injuries

Workplace assessment

Some cumulative trauma claims are preventable, according to loss control experts, who say workplace safety, automation and sound ergonomics are among the best risk management practices to keep workers on the job without pain or overuse injuries.

Such technologies and best practices are not new, have helped lower claim frequency overall in workers compensation and have the potential to curb repetitive trauma injuries, they say. 

“We’re continuing to try to get our customers to understand the risk factors that contribute to this type of human trauma disorders and have risk mitigation strategies in place to help stop them in the first place,” said Woody Dwyer, director of loss control and certified professional ergonomist with AmTrust Financial Services Inc. in Hartford, Connecticut. 

One step is to know your workers, processes and injury data, said Kim Pfingstag, Memphis, Tennessee-based manager, occupational care & recovery, in the global risk management department of International Paper Co.

“There’s a way to look at our data and identify where we’ve got opportunities to prevent injuries,” she said, adding that data can lead to improved communication between departments and work sites. 

From there, employers can better “understand that there is an opportunity to do things like ergonomic assessments, or just simple things like rotating workers so that they’re not doing the same job duties continuously, or letting them have more breaks,” she said. “Even ask employees to offer suggestions for how they might do this better.” 

Craig Karasack, Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based product director of ergonomics and manufacturing technology at Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., said a better understanding of work processes is helpful in prevention. “Our tenet is to look at the work design,” he said. 

Not following through on mitigation strategies is a common pitfall, said Mike Milidonis, Freeport, Florida-based national manager, ergonomics and employer services, for Genex Services, a Enlyte LLC company. 

For example, he said, companies can order an ergonomic evaluation, receive recommendations for equipment that might help an individual, and yet not purchase that equipment.

“That’s the worst thing because you know there’s a problem and nothing ever happens,” he said. “And the person is just going to continue down that discomfort road until it gets into that work comp side, or possibly disability.” 

Not understanding a worker’s history is another concern, said Neil DeBlock, Schaumburg, Illinois-based vice president, workers compensation claims, for Zurich North America.

“Many years ago, people worked at one employer for their entire career and currently that doesn’t happen any longer; they go from employer to employer to employer,” he said. “In some jurisdictions it’s the last employer, the last carrier that is stuck with the entire (cumulative trauma claim) and you don’t know what the worker was doing in their prior employments, and that works against you.”

Investigating a worker’s prior employers is helpful, he said. 

According to attorneys, this can involve checking Occupational Safety and Health Administration logs to examine a company’s record of lost-time injuries and frequency. 

Another tip is to create detailed job descriptions that provide guidelines on such factors as the weight of materials a worker should handle. Employers should also keep documentation of such rules and practices, Mr. DeBlock said.