Preventing Repetitive Motion Injuries in the Trades

Worker stretching arms to prevent repetitive stress injuries

Most people think of workplace injuries as single accidents like falling or slipping. But repetitive motion injuries are quite common, and can be just as traumatic. Also called repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), these musculoskeletal injuries affect thousands of employees in the trade and retail industries each year.

RSIs result from overexertion and repeating the same task without giving the body time to recover. From carpal tunnel syndrome to tendonitis and lower back pain, these injuries can hinder employees from working and cost thousands of dollars in worker’s comp claims.

However, there are several easy ways employers and workers can prevent RSIs and avoid their debilitating consequences. Here are seven solutions to try.

For Employers:

1. Use Ergonomics And Systems Thinking

The most effective way to prevent on-the-job dangers is to use proven tools like ergonomics and systems thinking. Ergonomics is a science that centers around making the job fit the worker instead of the other way around. With this premise, you can redesign working conditions to eliminate unnecessary exertion and prevent repetitive motion injuries.

Ergonomics knowledge can be especially helpful in the trades, where employees engage in repetitive tasks daily. Educate workers about proper ways to perform their assignments while exposing their bodies to minimum strain. For instance, teach them how to safely lift heavy objects and give them the right tools for the job.

Systems thinking is an approach that encourages viewing problems as a whole. This will help you better understand the development of injuries. Applying what systems thinking reveals about injury causation and prevention to everyday work practices will help you better prevent injuries. Combining these two powerful tools is the first step to creating a safe working environment.

2. Encourage Early Injury Reporting

Educate your workers on the first signs of repetitive injuries, and encourage them to report symptoms when they first notice them. The earlier you identify developing issues, the better you can manage them and avoid hefty costs and lengthy downtime.

Tell workers to pay attention to pain and soreness in the muscles and tendons of the upper limbs. Repetitive motion injuries can occur in other parts of the body, however the upper limbs are the most commonly affected. Numbness, tingling and inflammation can be mistaken for other problems and ignored. But workers should seek medical attention before minor signs turn into painful injuries. Having an open communication channel where employees feel comfortable reporting these issues is a win-win for everyone.

3. Redesign The Workplace

Redesigning the workplace to fit the workers’ needs is essential for preventing repetitive motion injuries. You should adjust the workstations to suit the needs of each employee. They should be able to perform their tasks comfortably without feeling excess strain on their bodies.

Redesigning the workplace should go beyond just improving workstations. It should also improve the methods and equipment used for performing tasks. Work practices should limit unnecessary repetitive movements, and safe tools and PPE of various sizes should be available.

Reporting unsafe equipment is one of the nine ways to avoid hearing oops in the workplace and should be encouraged by employers. Providing proper tools that fit the physical capabilities of each worker will help prevent repetitive motion injuries and costly accidents.

4. Plan Regular Breaks

You can be a safety hero by planning regular breaks for your workers. Taking mini breaks allows the body to rest and recover from demanding tasks. Have your workers stretch or walk around during breaks to help prevent repetitive motion injuries.

Other administrative controls that can reduce strain on the body include pacing and job rotation. You can reduce the number of repetitions each employee has to perform in an hour and rotate their tasks so that they don’t have to do the same thing over and over again.

For Workers:

1. Limit Repetitive Motions

To prevent repetitive motion injuries, you must limit the physically straining activities. Whether the job is lifting objects or working with tools for extended periods, these demanding tasks wear the body down and overwork the muscles. The situation becomes worse when someone performs them with an incorrect posture at awkward angles.

Some of the repetitive motions injuring the body over time that you can limit include:

  • Twisting movements with awkward postures
  • Repetitive moves when exposed to cold
  • Working with vibrating power tools for long
  • Standing for long periods without a chance to rest or lean on something
  • Putting excess weight on the body using the wrists, shoulders, arms and back

2. Stay Hydrated

This simple tip is one of the most effective things you can do to prevent repetitive motion injuries. Most employees in the trade industry forget about hydration during busy work hours. However, drinking water offers the body numerous benefits, especially when performing demanding tasks.

Staying hydrated will fight against musculoskeletal injuries and keep the body in peak condition. Drinking the recommended eight glasses of water daily is enough for most workers. However, those with more demanding tasks or working in hot environments will benefit from drinking even more.

3. Warm Up And Stretch

Stretching should not be reserved for breaks. Workers should stretch before each shift to warm up their muscles and prepare their bodies. Dynamic stretches are the best types of movements for this purpose. Employees should also stretch during their jobs ad after their shift to rest their bodies and recover.

Warming up and stretching will reduce the risk of developing work-related repetitive motion injuries.

Some stretches workers can perform include:

  • Arm Shake – Drop your arms to the sides and shake them for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds and repeat two more times.
  • Wrist Stretch – Extend your left arm in front of you with your palm up. With the other hand, gently pull your fingers back and bend your wrist until you feel a moderate stretch. Hold it for 20 seconds and repeat on the other hand.
  • Shoulder Shrugs – Inhale and lift your shoulders. Hold them in an elevated position for a few seconds. Exhale and bring them down to the starting positions. Repeat two more times.
  • Side Bends – Raise your left arm over your head and bend your upper body to the right. Do not twist to the side. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Body Stretch – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Interlock your fingers and extend your arms above your head. Hold it for 20 seconds, rest, and repeat.
  • Upper Body Twist – Put your hands on your hips and slowly turn your upper body to one side, keeping your face forward. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Plan Your Road to Repetitive Motion Injury Prevention

Workers in the trades perform demanding tasks that expose them to various musculoskeletal injuries. However, that doesn’t mean they have to suffer through these injuries and lose time and money as a result. You can prevent repetitive motion injuries and keep your employees safe with a calculated plan of action.

Use the above tips and plan your road to repetitive motion injury prevention today. Use the resources below to learn more about workplace injury prevention.