Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s) are among the most prevalent medical problems in the United States, and they accounted for 31% of all workplace injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work in 2015 (US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics report in November 2016). These disorders make up the majority of claims in many companies, and often an even higher percentage of worker’s compensation costs. With high incidence rates, and often very high costs (and lost time) associated with those claims, why is it that some companies don’t put resources to this MSD problem? I believe there any many reasons. Take note that some ergonomics programs are going strong with many resources being put toward this problem, and with excellent results. However, I believe that there is a common factor that impacts a company’s decision on where to place resources (an understandably important decision that needs to be made). Despite the money that bleeds from companies due to MSD’s, many are more concerned about the less frequent, but more severe risk categories of employee safety such as fall protection, hazard communication and respiratory protection. These are the areas that lead to the highest number of OSHA violations each year. I understand this, and I do not think resources should be diverted from these important employee safety areas, but I do think companies can be short-sighted if they don’t look at the big picture.
OSHA published its list of “Top Safety Violations” for 2016, and the list tells a couple of stories. One, it’s notable that the list changes little, if at all, each year. OSHA inspectors seem to find the same on-the-job hazards year after year. And two, you never find MSD-related or ergonomic-related violations on that list. The reasons for that is a whole other discussion!
Want to gain support for your ergonomics program? A focus on leading indicators can help. Leading indicators drive processes and activities, and effective measurement of leading indicators can help you sustain your ergonomics program. As lagging indicators measure results at the end of a time period, leading indicators are predictive in nature and allow the organization to make adjustments along the way. With a sole focus on the number of incidents, days away from work (and other lagging indicators), the company does NOT have a clear picture of what’s going on today or where they’re headed. This does not pave the way for a proactive program.
Some examples of leading indicators include (there are MANY, and may be specific to the company – these are just a few examples):
- Audits and observations
- A noted shift from “what caused this” to “what contributed to this”
- Employee engagement (may be a challenge to evaluate)
- Management and employees are more receptive to making changes or improvements in the design of the work area or processes
- Procurement is an active partner and makes an effort to purchase what’s best, and not just what’s cheap.
- Ergonomics teams or committees are developed, meetings are held, participation grows
- Maintenance schedules and records
Tracking leading indicators can help! This proactive approach leads to improving safety through insight and prevention, and is an effective way to help sustain your ergonomics program over time. Give it a try!