When thinking about health and safety in food and beverage processing, it can be easy to underestimate the effect of musculoskeletal injuries (MSI). Injuries due to overexertion and repetitive motion make up 35 percent of injuries within the food and beverage processing industry, with each time-loss claim resulting in an average of 60 days of work time lost.
MSIs are soft tissue injuries that can be caused or aggravated by work. These sprains, strains, or disorders of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc. can significantly affect workers, employers, and the workplace.
Workers, supervisors, managers, and employers can all help prevent MSIs and make the workplace safer and healthier for everyone.
How do MSIs happen?
While the specific causes of MSIs can vary depending on the industry, they are usually caused by one or more of the following risk factors:
- Forceful exertions — lifting or moving heavy loads
- Repetitive motion — repeating the same motion over an extended period
- Work postures — performing awkward movements, such as reaching, bending, twisting, and static posture
- Local contact stress — part of the body coming in contact with a hard or sharp object, injuring nerves and tissues beneath the skin
- Floor surfaces — such as grade, surface texture, and slip resistance
- Environmental conditions — including cold temperatures, poor lighting, and vibration
When considering risk factors for MSIs, it’s important to note the number of risk factors, how long the worker is exposed to each one, and the severity of each risk factor.
Understanding Employer Responsibilities
Identifying the risk factors, implementing control measures, and eliminating or reducing the causes of MSIs can all go a long way in reducing workplace injuries. Effectively managing risk in your workplace involves four steps:
- Understand the risks — identify the hazards (anything that could cause harm) and assess the risk these hazards pose to workers.
- Control the risks — the greatest risks should be addressed first. Apply the hierarchy of controls: Start by trying to eliminate the risk or substitute the process. If that is not possible, apply engineering controls, using equipment or other means to prevent workers from being exposed to the hazard. The next level is administrative controls, using safe work procedures to enable workers to perform the work safely. The final level of control is personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Communicate — make sure all affected workers and supervisors know what controls are in place, why and how to use them.
- Monitor and update — assess how your control measures are working and adjust if needed.
Preventing MSIs is a Shared Responsibility
Employers need to consult with workers and with their joint health and safety committee (or worker health and safety representative) when identifying risk factors and potential controls. Workers are in a great position to help in this process as they often have the best insights into the demands of the job. Employers and workers can work together to complete risk assessments and address health and safety concerns that help reduce the potential for workplace injuries.