4 Easy to Correct Contributing Factors of Employee Injuries

Musculoskeletal disorders are often the result of multiple contributing factors — anything from work station posture, gender, and temperature to work pace, low staffing levels, and lighting — making it difficult to pinpoint and change the root cause in your food processing plant operation.

When employees are exposed to multiple contributing factors, the chances of injury (and costs to the business) increase. It’s essential, then, to identify the contributing factors that are at play in your processing facility and take the steps to correct and eliminate them.  Doing so will decrease the risk of injury to your employees, and make your food processing plant safer.

4 Categories of Contributing Factors

There are four main categories of contributing factors to musculoskeletal disorders:

Physical Factors

Every job has physical factors that can contribute to the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. These include the activities employees perform every day to accomplish their tasks — everything from lifting, reaching, crouching, grasping, sitting, pushing, pulling, standing, and more — combined with the risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders, which include:

  • Repetitive motion
  • Sustained static posture
  • Contact pressure
  • Awkward posture
  • Forceful exertion
  • Vibration

Performing a single task once doesn’t lead to a musculoskeletal disorder. It’s when a task is combined with one of the risk factors above that musculoskeletal disorders can form.

 Addressing Physical Factors

There are a number of solutions that will address and eliminate the physical risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders. Some of these solutions include:

  • Ergonomic stands — help to eliminate awkward posture, over reaching, reaching overhead.
  • Dumpers — help to eliminate awkward posture, lifting, and squatting.
  • Pallet and rack lifts — help to eliminate lifting, pushing, pulling, and forceful exertion.
  • Narrow conveyors — help to eliminate awkward posture, overreaching.
  • Foot rails — help to eliminate sustained static posture.

Environmental Factors

The environment found in your processing plant can also contribute to the development of musculoskeletal disorders. Temperature extremes (both hot and cold) and illumination extremes can lead to fatigue; restrict blood flow, muscle strength, and manual dexterity; cause employees to work in awkward postures; and cause strain on eyes — all risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders.

Environmental factors include:

  • Temperature (hot and cold)
  • Humidity
  • Illumination (dim and bright)

The following chart will show you the effects temperature has on the human body:

Source: Suzanne Rodgers, Ergonomics Design for People at Work, Volume 1: Workplace, Equipment, and Environmental Design and Information Transfer. Edited by Elizabeth Eggleton for Eastman Kodak Company. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983.
Temperature and HumidityEffects on Humans
70 – 80F, humidity 70%Climate is comfortable.
85F, humidity 70% Climate is uncomfortable to most.
92F, humidity 70% or moreSome will experience an increase in body temperature, pulse, and breathing rates and might experience heat exhaustion if conditions persist for more than 2 hours.

While this chart will show you the recommended lighting levels for performing various tasks:

Source: Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene. Edited by Barbara A. Plog, Jill Niland, and Patricia J. Quinlan. Itasca, Ill.: National Safety Council, 1996.
Type of Activity or AreaRange of Illuminance (in Foot-candles)
Public spaces with dark surroundings2-5
Simple orientation for short temporary visits5-10
Working spaces where visual tasks are only occasionally performed10-20
Performance of visual tasks of high contrast or large size20-50
Performance of visual tasks of medium contrast or small size (difficult inspection or medium assembly)50-100
Performance of visual tasks of low contrast or very small size (very difficult inspection)100-200
Performance of visual tasks of low contrast and very small size over a prolonged period (fine assembly or highly difficult inspection)200-500
Performance of very prolonged and exacting visual tasks (the most difficult inspection)500-1,000
Performance of very special visual tasks of extremely low contrast and small size1,000-2,000

Addressing Environmental Factors

There are two main ways to address environmental risk factors in your processing plant: adjust the environment (temperature, humidity, illumination) of your processing plant to comfortable norms or provide employees with the equipment necessary to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (gloves, boots, etc).

Some of those solutions may include:

  • Frequent breaks from the heat
  • Gloves, boots, hats
  • Encourage employees to wear layers
  • Extra or adjusted lighting

Individual Factors

Individual factors also have the ability to affect the development of musculoskeletal disorders. These factors can limit an employee’s ability to perform physical tasks and put them at higher than normal risk. They can include1:

  • Age
  • Physical condition / fitness
  • Strength
  • Gender
  • Stature
  • Visual capabilities
  • Weight
  • Diet
  • Habits
  • Lifestyle

A number of medical conditions can predispose individuals to musculoskeletal disorders, including1:

  • Arthritis
  • Pregnancy
  • Bone and muscle conditions
  • Previous trauma
  • Contraceptive use
  • Thyroid problems
  • Diabetes mellitus

Addressing Individual Factors

There isn’t much a company can do to address individual factors, other than knowing the requirements of each position and hiring / assigning employees who can meet those requirements based on their known individual risk factors.

Work Organization Factors

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests that work organization factors can play a role in the development of musculoskeletal disorders1. These factors include the way jobs are designed, the way work is carried out, work arrangements, and management systems.

Work organization factors can also affect employee’s health, including1:

  • Fast work pace
  • Task complexity
  • Limited worker control
  • Monotonous and repetitive job tasks
  • Excessive workload demands
  • Scheduling—shift work, long work hours, infrequent rest breaks
  • Human resource practices (low staffing levels, flexible labor force, overtime policy)
  • Limited opportunities for skills development or advancement
  • Unclear job expectations
  • Poor social environment and lack of support or help from coworkers and supervisors
  • Lack of open lines of communication between supervisors and employees
  • Manufacturing practices and production methods that change the work environment and expose workers to new safety and health hazards
  • Lack of participation by workers in the decision-making process

Addressing Work Organization Factors

Work organization factors can be much more difficult to determine and address, and usually require adjustments made to the culture and communication style of an organization. However, there are a few strategies that NIOSH suggests can help1:

  • Ensure that the workload is in line with workers’ capabilities and resources.
  • Design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities for workers to use their skills.
  • Clearly define workers’ roles and responsibilities.
  • Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their job.
  • Improve communications by reducing uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among workers.
  • Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.

A Safer Food Processing Plant

Recognizing and addressing the four main categories of contributing factors to musculoskeletal disorders will put you on the path to a safer and healthier food processing plant. Take the steps today to evaluate the physical, environmental, individual, and work organization risk factors and make a plan to correct those that are prevalent in your plant. It could be the difference between a safe working environment and costly employee injuries.

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.

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