By Marie Johnson, CPCU, ARM
34% of all workday injuries and illnesses are related to Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTDs), according to OSHA.
$43,000 represents the average CTD claim. CTDs cost businesses an estimated $15 to $20 billion per year in employee compensation costs.
With the cost of healthcare rising at double-digit rates annually, businesses trying to keep these costs in check are increasingly looking to reduce one of the most pervasive and expensive workplace injuries--cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs), which include repetitive motion injuries, repetitive strain injuries and musculoskeletal disorders that usually affect soft tissues (muscles, tendons and nerves). Dental technicians are especially at risk for developing CTDs and nerve damage in the wrist and arm due to poor posture or performing repetitive tasks.
Successful ergonomics programs that address the relationship between employees and their work environment have proven to help reduce an employer's potential exposure to worker's compensation claims caused by CTDs. Also, educating employees on the topic of ergonomics helps them to be aware of proper body positioning and proper workstation setup, enabling them to work more efficiently. Here are some of the basic tenets of proper workplace ergonomics:
Good posture includes sitting straight in the chair, muscles relaxed, with the body tilted slightly back. When you lean too far forward, too far back or slouch, your wrists and hands adapt by flexing or extending, which strains the nerves, muscles and tendons.
Adjust your chair's backrest to fit snugly against your lower back. If the backrest can't be adjusted, a small, thick, firm pillow or rolled-up towel can be used for support.
Keep feet flat on the floor or on a foot support for good circulation in the lower legs and to reduce back discomfort.
Your point of operation--the point at which your hands are performing a task--should be at elbow level and at a distance that allows the arms to remain close to the sides of your body. Elbows should rest at your side and bend between 60-90°.
- Avoid twisting your wrists too far to either side or bending too far up or down.
Work surface space should be adequate to support all necessary equipment and supplies, with frequently used items within comfortable reach. Where applicable, computer workstations should have a minimum of 30" of front-to-back space for monitors up to 18" in depth, and 36" of space for monitors over 18".
There should be 3" to 6" of legroom between your lap and the desk or bench.
Work surfaces should be at a height that allows appropriate arm/wrist/hand positioning.
When using equipment, be sure it is positioned in straight alignment with your body.
Use tools that are properly sized, including the right grip size and length for your hand. Whenever possible, choose tools that are shaped so the wrist can remain nearly straight during use. Blades and bits should be kept sharp for easier use.
If possible, tasks should be alternated to give employees' hands and wrists a rest.
Encourage employees to brainstorm with each other and with supervisors about workflow, tools and equipment, and ways of rotating tasks throughout the shift. Using different muscle groups will help reduce the risk of CTDs.
Take a few seconds every hour to stretch. Shoulder rolls will release tightness in the shoulders and upper arms (roll shoulders in a wide circular motion to the front and then the back). Hand stretching will work out tension in forearms, wrists, hands and fingers. Exercises include holding arms out straight in front and slowly moving hands up and down at the wrists; making tight fists with both hands and holding for a couple of seconds; and spreading fingers as far apart as possible and holding for a few seconds.
Staying fit will allow a healthy blood supply to feed the body, helping tired or damaged tissues to recover faster. Thirty minutes of physical activity daily is recommended to reduce the possibility of CTDs. Smoking can reduce blood circulation, which reduces tissues' ability to heal.
Marie Johnson, CPCU, ARM, is vice president and director of claims and loss control, Lyons Companies, Wilmington, Delaware.