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Avoiding repetitive stress injuries in the workplace

Repetitive stress injuries are one of the largest categories of workplace injuries, according to health care professionals in Illinois and nationwide. Such injuries include conditions like neck or lower back pain, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis or headaches. The pressure placed on joints by poor posture or poor positioning during routine tasks can cause these injuries. Poor workstation design is also a major contributing cause to repetitive stress injuries.

Some health care professionals believe that taking frequent micro-breaks is important to the prevention of repetitive stress injuries. Physicians recommend standing and stretching the legs, back, arms and wrists. They also say that workers taking short walks approximately every half-hour can prevent injury.

Poor workplace design can be countermanded to some extent by ergonomics, a practical science that fits workplace conditions to the tasks. For example, if an employee is required to do lifting, he or she should use the largest muscles in that part of the body to perform the task since this will reduce the stress on smaller, more vulnerable muscles. Employees should also try to assume a variety of postures while doing a task to help avoid muscle fatigue. Finally, employees should not flex joints to their extremes but should keep them in a neutral position, extending them at most only halfway to their extremes during the commission of a task to avoid putting abnormal stresses on joints.

Workplace injuries are a major economic drain on employers and employees alike. Losses associated with workplace injuries account for billions of dollars every year. Individuals who have suffered injuries in the workplace should be eligible to collect workers' compensation benefits. However, it may be difficult to prove that an injury came from work if it came on slowly. At such a time, an injured worker may seek legal aid to negotiate with the employer's insurance provider.

Source: CDA Press, "Workplace ergonomics", June 18, 2014

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