According to the California Department of Labor Statistics and Research, the food processing industry has one of the highest lost-workday incidence (LWDI) rates. In 2000, it was almost double than the LWDI rate for all industries as a whole.1
Bruises, cuts, burns, fractures, and amputations are among the top causes of such a high lost-workday incidence rate — due in part to the equipment used in food processing plants.
While those injuries are severe and drive up the LWDI rate, there is a much more common set of injuries that account for the majority of the high LWDI rate: musculoskeletal disorders.
What are Musculoskeletal Disorders?
Musculoskeletal disorders are caused from the development of damage to muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs over time. Rarely are they the result of a single event or accident, meaning it can take weeks, months, or even years to develop the symptoms and catch the injuries before they result in lost work.
Some of the most common symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders include:
- Pain from movement, pressure, or exposure to cold or vibration
- Change in skin color from exposure to cold or vibration
- Numbness or tingling in the legs, arms, hands, or fingers
- Decreased range of motion in the joints
- Decreased grip strength
- Swelling of a joint or part of the arm, hand, finger, or leg
- Fatigue or difficulty in keeping up with performance requirements
While these may seem like minor injuries compared to fractures and amputations, musculoskeletal disorders often lead to an inability to perform one’s job — and result in hefty costs to the employer and employee.
Tips to Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders
Preventing musculoskeletal disorders in a food processing plant is possible. The following 18 safety principles, when implemented by your workforce, will drastically reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders from developing and keep your employees safe and comfortable while working.
Avoid holding the body in the same position for long periods of time (static postures).
- Try to move from that posture, even if for a short period of time.
- Use a machine to do the task.
- Keep the body moving (dynamic movements)–vary the levels or distance in which the work is performed.
Avoid working with the limbs far from the torso.
- Adjust (lower) the height of the work to below shoulder level.
- Frequently performed activities should be performed directly in front of the body.
Avoid hand tools or the orientation of objects that cause the wrist to bend up (extension) or down (flexion) or to the side (ulnar deviation).
- Use tools with bent handles.
- Use jigs or work surfaces that can orient the object to keep the wrist straight.
Avoid working with the back bend forward (back flexion) for long periods of time.
- Raise the work to at least waist level.
- Provide a stool so that workers can sit while doing the lower activities.
- Alternate with work that is performed standing up straight.
High Hand Forces:
When grasping an object with any kind of force, avoid using a pinch grip (grasping with the tips of the fingers). A power grip (holding the object with the fingers wrapped around it) can generate more force.
- Use a vise or a jig to hold the object.
- Use a tool to hold the object that requires a power grip.
Avoid having to perform quick motions repeatedly.
- See if it is possible to use a machine instead.
- Alternate the performance of repetitive tasks with less repetitive ones.
Heavy, Awkward and Frequent Lifting:
- Avoid lifting objects that:
- can’t be lifted close to the body,
- require twisting during the lift,
- are too big or of a shape that doesn’t allow a good hold by the hands,
- require the start and end of the lift to be greater than between knee or shoulder level.
- Use a machine to do the lifting.
- Arrange space so that heavier objects are kept between knee and shoulder height.
- Store less used, lighter, smaller objects below knee level or above shoulder level if there are no other alternatives.
Invest in Safety
Training employees to be aware of and practice principles to prevent the development of musculoskeletal disorders is an investment in the profitability of your company. A lower amount of employee injuries means more money in your pocket. Make a plan to implement the principles above to improve the safety of your facility.
1. Department of Industrial Relations Cal/OSHA Consultation Service Research and Education Unit. Ergonomics in Action: A Guide to Best Practices for the Food-Processing Industry. California: California Department of Industrial Relations, 2003. Print.