Assembly-line workers who perform highly repetitive tasks, work continuously in awkward postures, or frequently perform heavy physical labor may be at risk for developing musculoskeletal disorders.
Musculoskeletal disorders are not usually noticeable at first. They are not caused by a single event, such as a fall. They result from gradual, progressive tissue damage – called microtraumas – to muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, cartilage, joints, blood vessels and/or the spine.
Symptoms include pain from movement, numbness or tingling in the extremities, decreased grip strength, fatigue and swelling in the extremities or joints.
Why is it so important for managers of assembly line workers to know about musculoskeletal disorders?
Because these disorders not only impact the health of your employees but also are unhealthy for your company’s bottom line. They can add significantly to your production costs and hence the price of your products through:
- Higher workers compensation premiums
- Higher health care costs, which eventually results in higher employee health insurance premiums
- Absenteeism and “presenteeism” – Being absent or on the job but not able to perform up to expectations
- Costs for vocational rehabilitation
- Time required to investigate and settle claims
- Recruiting and training replacement employees
- Damage to employee morale
The best way to prevent such injuries is by applying ergonomics – fitting worksites to people. Ergonomics is concerned with designing workstations, tasks and tools that maximize safety, efficiency and comfort.
But ergonomic design is not one-size-fits-all. You can’t find the best solutions for your worksite in a textbook or manual. People’s mental and physical abilities, strengths and weaknesses vary widely as a result of age, physical condition, gender, strength, stature, intellect and other individual factors.
The best solution in many cases is to get a professional ergonomic consultation. The cost of a consultation will likely be offset many times over in prevention of injuries, not to mention improvements in productivity and employee satisfaction.