If you work with hand tools or plan the work of those who do, here are some tips for work organization to help prevent musculoskeletal disorders:
Change it up
Jobs that use only one kind of tool for one or a few tasks, or that use the same movement and same part of the body can overload those muscles, ligaments, tendons or tissues and cause pain and injury. A job that involves a variety of tasks allows you to change your body position to distribute the workload over different parts of the body. This variety gives overused muscles some relief and recovery time.
- Rotate workers among tasks that are different in the type of movement and body parts used, having them move from one task to another according to a schedule.
- Add more tasks to the job.
- Assign a larger part of work to a team of workers with each member sharing several different tasks.
A fast pace of work is a strong risk factor for musculoskeletal disorders. If the pace is too fast, the muscles involved do not have enough time to recover from the effort and restore enough energy to continue the work. If the pace of work is imposed externally – assembly line speed, for example – adjust it to the speed that is acceptable for the slowest worker.
Incentive systems that reward for the quality of work naturally determine the “right” pace of work. In contrast, incentive systems that reward for the amount or quantity of work increase the risk for musculoskeletal disorders and may affect quality as well.
Break it up
Work and rest breaks provide time for the muscles you are using on the job to rest and recover, and help prevent injury. The work break is a time period (even short periods of time, literally seconds) between tasks that allow you to relax muscles involved in operating tools. Rest breaks – the period after work stops – not only allow for refreshment, but also can be used to stretch and relax.
Take time to adjust
When returning to work after a long absence, or when starting a new job, you should have an adjustment or acclimatization period to get in shape. It should allow you to refresh old work habits or get used to a new routine. An adjustment period is an important part of injury prevention. Inexperienced and new workers, as well as “old timers” returning to work after a period of recovery and rehabilitation, are more prone than most workers to both injury and re-injury.
Training workers in the safe use of tools and on the hazards involved in working with them has always been extremely important. As new materials, new technologies, and new equipment replace older ones faster than ever before, the importance of training is even greater. Before introducing a new tool or equipment, as well as any change in the way the job has been done previously, the worker should be given refresher training that includes new information about the changes being introduced.
Even the best-designed tool, or the most ergonomically correct workstation, or the most up-to-date work organization will fail to prevent injuries if the worker is not properly trained.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) promotes the total well being of workers in Canada by providing information, training, education, systems and solutions that support health and safety programs and injury and illness prevention.