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