Resources - Environment

Gathering and examining evidence of MSDs

Once a decision has been made to initiate an ergonomics program, a necessary step is to gather information to determine the scope and characteristics of the problem or potential problem. A variety of techniques and tools have been used; many provide the basis for developing solutions to identified problems.

  • Following up of worker reports
  • Reviewing OSHA 200 logs
  • Conducting symptom surveys
  • Using periodic medical examinations
  • Identifying Risk Factors in Jobs
    • Screening jobs for risk factors
    • Performing job analyses
    • Setting priorities

Conditions and Symptoms

What are some of the clues that MSDs are a real or possible workplace problem? Some signs are obvious while others are more subtle.

  • OSHA Form 200 logs or workers compensation claims show cases of MSDs such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, tenosynovitis, epicondylitis, and low back pain. Sometimes these records contain nonspecific entries like "hand pain," which may be an indicator of a significant health problem if severe or persistent.
  • Certain jobs or work conditions cause worker complaints of undue strain, localized fatigue, discomfort, or pain that does not go away after overnight rest.
  • Workers visiting the clinic make frequent references to physical aches and pains related to certain types of work Exercises.
  • Job tasks involve at risk activities such as repetitive and forceful exertions; frequent, heavy, or overhead lifts; awkward work positions; or use of vibrating equipment.

If you uncover signs like these in your workplace, it might be a good idea to request a confidential evaluation by OSHA or insurer ergonomics consultant. Ergonomic evaluations may uncover significant problems and be very helpful in correcting them.

Other sources that could alert employers to potential problems include the following:
  • Trade publications, insurer newsletters, or references in popular literature indicating risks of MSDs
  • Cases of MSDs found among competitors or in similar businesses
  • Proposals for increasing line speed, retooling, or modifying jobs to increase individual worker output and overall productivity

Following up on Worker Reports

Assuring that employees feel free to report, as early as possible, symptoms of physical stress is a key component of any ergonomics program. Early reporting makes it possible to begin corrective measures before the effects of a job problem worsen. When employees feel comfortable reporting their symptoms or other concerns, it indicates a high level of trust between labor and management.

As mentioned earlier, individual worker concerns that certain jobs cause undue physical fatigue, stress, or discomfort may be signs of ergonomic problems. Following up on these reports, particularly reports of MSDs, is essential. Such reports indicate a need to evaluate the jobs to identify ergonomic risk factors.

Reviewing OSHA Logs and other existing records

Inspecting OSHA 200 logs and plant medical records, as well as workers compensation claims, insurance claims, absentee records, and job transfer applications can yield information about the nature of MSDs. Finding workers in certain departments or operations experiencing more of these problems than others would suggest some immediate areas for study with regard to possible risk factors.

Jobs with elevated rates of low back musculoskeletal disorders often also have higher risks for acute injuries due to slips and trips or other safety hazards. In these cases, acute musculoskeletal injuries may also be an important problem.

Conducting symptoms surveys

Interviews or symptom surveys can be used to identify possible MSDs that might otherwise go unnoticed. In addition to questions about the type, onset, and duration of symptoms, symptom survey forms may include a body map. The employee is asked to locate and rate the level of discomfort experienced in different areas of his or her body. The assumption is that any discomfort or symptoms may be associated with some increased risk for MSDs.

Using periodic medical examinations

A disadvantage of using OSHA logs or company medical information to identify possible cases of MSDs is the lack of specific or uniform medical information. This limitation may make identifying MSDs difficult. One optional approach to overcome this limitation is to have each worker undergo a periodic standard examination that includes a history and physical examination. Such an examination program should be designed and administered by a health care provider.

Source: OSHA

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Copyright ©2000-2016 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Students may reproduce materials for personal study. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).