Lower costs and improve safety with solutions to prevent
musculoskeletal disorders in food processing facilities
Understanding the injuries that progress over time.
Ergonomics Plus provides a comprehensive definition of MSD:
Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.).
Each of these disorders is accurately named, as they cause damage to the musculoskeletal system, often over years of improper and unsafe movements.
Recognizing the work activities that increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.
According to Ergonomics Plus, MSD’s have a main cause:
When a worker is exposed to MSD risk factors, they begin to fatigue. When fatigue outruns their body’s recovery system, they develop a musculoskeletal imbalance. Over time, as fatigue continues to outrun recovery and the musculoskeletal imbalance persists, a musculoskeletal disorder develops.
There are three primary risk factors that lead to musculoskeletal disorders.
While not as serious, there are a number of secondary risk factors that experienced over long periods of time can lead to MSD’s.
When exposed to these risk factors, especially over longer periods of time, the risk of developing an MSD increases.
The cost of musculoskeletal disorders far outweighs the price of ergonomic solutions.
Musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries come with a high price tag.
According to Fit2WRK, the direct cost for all U.S. workers out of work due to MSD injuries is estimated at $13-20 billion annually, with indirect costs between $26 and $110 billion annually.
Most companies track the cost of injuries by tracking direct costs, as they are the easiest to see and track.
Direct costs include:
Depending on the severity of the injury, direct costs can range from relatively low to incredibly high.
Direct costs are only a small part of the equation.
According to R. Gange, the VP of Worker’s Comp and Disability at Fit2WRK, “The direct costs are literally just the tip of the iceberg. Indirect cost multipliers for work-related injuries range from 3 to 10 times as direct costs!”
Indirect costs are the unbudgeted costs associated with an injury in order to get the employee back to pre-injury status.
Indirect costs include:
Musculoskeletal injuries are a primary cause of days away from work.
According to research done by The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States, musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) accounted for nearly one-third (30.5%) of the 933,200 injuries involving days away from work in 2010. In addition, MSD injuries consistently across the years result in more median days away from work than all workplace injuries.
As any employer knows, days away from work, especially due to injury, can be expensive.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) found that the average lost-time workers’ compensation claim costs the employer $29,400 in medical expenses and $23,600 in indemnity, or wage replacement, costs.
Let’s break this down for the food processing industry.
A BLS report states that the food production industry saw injury rates in 2008 of 6.2 cases per 100 full-time workers.
If half of those injuries were a lost time claim, the direct worker’s compensation costs would be $159,000 with indirect costs that typical double this number — $318,000 for 3 claims.
The average profit margin among the top 10 food producers is only 13%, meaning an employer with just 100 workers would have to generate nearly $2.5 million in new revenue just to cover the cost of work-related injuries.
An effective ergonomics program can improve safety and save money.
With a few changes to workplace design, a small investment in equipment, and the right plan, MSD’s are highly preventable — reducing the risk that your company will face the high cost of MSD injuries.
It just takes some knowledge of ergonomics.
Simply put, ergonomics is the study of how to improve the fit between the tasks of the job and the employees who perform the work, so as to reduce the exposure to MSD risk factors.
By studying the movements associated with a particular task, it can be easy to see the risk factors that lead to MSD’s. Once the risk factors for a particular task are seen, it becomes much easier to make adjustments to prevent those harmful movements.
There are a number of benefits associated with implementing ergonomic solutions into your facility.
Washington State Department of Labor and Industries reviewed 250 case studies on the effects of ergonomics, and found five main benefits:
There’s one more benefit not called out in the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ study:
A structured ergonomic process will help you evaluate and implement solutions to improve safety.
Implementing an ergonomic process is a smart and cost-aware solution to preventing and reducing the costs of MSD injuries, but how do you get started?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends starting by developing an evaluation plan — determining the potential baseline, process, health outcomes, and organizational change measures to improve the safety in your facility.
It sounds more overwhelming than it is.
A number of companies provide ergonomic evaluations and game plans to help you get started and determine what risk factors are prevalent in your workflow.
Once an evaluation plan is developed, it’s time to put it to use to identify the problem areas in your workflow.
Someone from your company or an outside consulting firm will evaluate each task to pinpoint the primary and secondary risk factors for MSD’s and make recommendations on how to reduce or eliminate those risk factors.
There are a number of ergonomic solutions that can be implemented to reduce exposure to primary and secondary risk factors. You can find those solutions below:
Once solutions are in place, take time to evaluate the improvements and measure their effectiveness. This will help you determine if more solutions need to be implemented.
Understanding the ergonomic needs for your specific industry decreases the risk of injury.
Understanding the unique musculoskeletal risks associated with every role in your processing and packaging operation is the first step to improving safety.
Every role is different — requiring unique movements and positions that need to be taken into account.
Ergonomic solutions that work for a boxing line won’t look the same as ergonomic solutions needed for meat cutting.
The differences are important. We put together some risk factors and suggested ergonomic solutions for various industries below:
Improve safety in your facility with ergonomic equipment.
Equipment plays a pivotal role in reducing the risk of musculoskeletal disorders in food processing facilities.
Often, it is the design of current equipment and processes that lead to work-related risk factors of injuries. Investing in better equipment, or accessory ergonomic equipment can make a drastic impact on the safety of your workers.
The following list contains recommended equipment designed to relieve the primary risk factors of musculoskeletal disorders.
To reduce the risk of awkward posture injuries, consider investing in:
Equipment that helps employees lift or push heavy objects include:
Alleviating repetitive motion tasks often require equipment that automates the work process.
Evaluating the process to notice repetitive motion tasks will help you determine what can be automated to relieve workers from the risk of injury.