The current demand on warehouse, logistics, supermarket workers is cause for increase in peaks of hazardous movements, placing key workers at risk of injury.
While most of the world slows down, some workers have never been busier. And a hidden problem is developing. Warehouses are booming as consumers move to online shopping and also stockpiling certain goods. With this comes the increased risk of a musculoskeletal injury due to repetition, overtime and fatigue. With the increase in hiring across these industries, inexperience or being new on the job, lack of familiarity of job task, difficulty appraising hazards, lower awareness of safety procedures, incomplete or not completed safety training are all risk factors for injuries. These are injury challenges growing in the background.
Overtime, fatigue and repetition risk
Repetition is a leading cause of injury and now more than ever. Continuous and repeated force exertions over a significant period of time may have an impact and cause tissue changes which decrease stability.
Overtime puts any worker in the position of an increased injury risk. Studies show that working more than 10 hours a day increases the risk by 40 per cent and 12 hours will double the risk. It is important to have rests as Insufficient recovery periods cause muscle instability and impaired muscle co-ordination.
Fatigue is another attributing factor and leads to impaired performance. Once a worker begins to feel fatigued, movements are affected as short cuts are taken. For example, this is often seen during movements that require spinal rotation – common among warehouse workers and health care workers.
In order to save energy during rush times or when fatigue has set it, rotating in the lower back rather than turning the whole body is an easy mistake. This causes surrounding muscles to go into a protective spasm to prevent the spine from damage and thus causes lower back pain.
Anastasia Vasina, medical doctor and physiotherapist at Soter Analytics explains, “Working in an environment that has a sudden increased level of stress due to instances such as the onset of the coronavirus can have significant impact on musculoskeletal wellbeing. When there is a mismatch between individual performance capacity and work demands there is likely to be an increase in injury. These scenarios can often be seen during busy periods like the build-up to Christmas, however if the task or job stays at the new raised level, this further increases the risk due to association with the decreased capacity. It becomes a viscous cycle”.
Keep workers aware of the increased risk
A potential approach to mitigate the risk is to keep communication open, generate new signs that catch attention and put time into sending messages pertaining to musculoskeletal safety. Use encouragement to help workers to put their safety first and to not only look after themselves on the job but keep healthy outside the workplace. Educate, using reminders on the importance of sleep, healthy eating habits, keeping hydrated and prioritising rest, especially now as stress levels are up and demands on workers are high. Research opportunities to engage workers in manual handling programs that adhere to the current social distancing regulations and require no group training that can be done on the job, reducing down time but at the same time helping the risk.
Find the tools that best help your workforce and demands. The musculoskeletal health of workers can be put into the hands of the individual, creating autonomy and decreasing the safety risk from the organisation.
Don’t substitute the manual workers safety during the global distraction of Coronavirus.
Toni-Louise Gianatti is content manager for Soter Analytics, a global safety science company.