March 25, 2013
Keep overexertion from straining resources
View from the Board | Don Schouten
It typically happens every day in B.C. A busy construction worker lifts materials that are a little heavier than expected and feels a "pop" in his back.
In construction, overexertion — a type of musculoskeletal injury (or MSI for short) — is the cause of many worker injuries.
Workers can also injure themselves by pushing, pulling, carrying, turning or throwing heavy objects and, less commonly, through the repetitive use of tools.
Since workers are expected to perform these tasks on any jobsite on any given day, it’s no wonder that MSIs are common in construction.
So, just how common are injuries resulting from overexertion?
From 2009 through 2011, overexertion accounted for 25 per cent of the injury claims in construction.
These types of injuries often affect the back, but they can also affect the wrists, shoulders, knees and other parts of the body.
And while injuries resulting from a push or a pull may not sound very dramatic compared to traumatic broken bones and lacerations, they can be disabling and workers may be off the jobsite longer.
What’s worse, they are never expected.
A worker can have lifted a sheet of plywood or box of nails the same way for years and then suddenly feel a “tweak” one day while doing the exact same thing.
He might work through it this time, but without some form of treatment, chances are he will be vulnerable to further strains in the future.
In fact, lifting is the most costly cause of overexertion, resulting in 1,500 claims in the last two years, with an average 57 days of work lost per claim.
Injuries from the repetitive use of tools happen less frequently, but when they do, it takes on average 76 days for a worker to get back to the jobsite.
Fortunately, overexertion injuries can be avoided.
To minimize the risk of strains and sprains, always plan ahead. If possible, get materials off loaded where they are going to be needed so they don’t have to be moved.
If they have to be moved, use mechanical means, such as carts or dollies with big wheels.
If mechanical means aren’t practical, encourage workers to get co-workers to help them carry awkward or heavy materials and to make an extra trip, rather than carrying too big a load. Another way to help avoid these types of injuries is to make sure workers are properly trained in safe work procedures, such as proper lifting techniques.
Fewer strains and sprains mean increased productivity, decreased costs, and most importantly, it means that no one has to suffer the pain that occurs with this type of injury. It makes sense to do whatever we can to avoid these everyday injuries from straining our resources.
Please let me know what you think of this or any construction safety issue. I’d like to hear from you.
Don Schouten is the manager of construction with Industry and Labour Services at WorkSafeBC. Don is also a Journal of Commerce Editorial Advisory Board member. Direct all comments or questions to email@example.com.
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