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Risk Management

5 Individual Risk Factors Impacting Work-Related MSDs

All ergonomics programs can help mitigate the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), but the most-effective risk control programs must also consider personal risk factors that affect an individual’s overall health. See how these factors can lead to or exacerbate workplace injuries.

September 27, 2022

For many employers, the workload and job functions may vary on a daily basis, making ergonomic controls used to prevent MSDs more challenging to maintain. Individual risk factors become more important in these situations since there is usually a less controlled or unpredictable environment.

“Organizations can start with reviewing their administrative controls, like work practices and management policies, to ensure that they are creating the healthiest workplace possible for their employees,” said Sonya Luisoni, Senior Risk Control Manager at Safety National. “Adjusting work schedules and workloads by reducing shift length, limiting overtime, and allowing for more breaks can act as temporary measures until more permanent engineering controls are implemented.”

These individual risk factors can dramatically impact the risk of an MSD occurring and lengthen recovery time.

1. Physical Fitness Levels

Employees who maintain their physical fitness are less prone to injury and tend to recover more quickly in the event of an injury. Individuals who do not manage their physical health can also exacerbate an injury, complicating recovery. Employers can help by utilizing wellness programs that subsidize gym memberships and incentivize physical activity.

2. Weight Management

Hip, knee, ankle, foot and shoulder injuries are consistently linked to obesity as a risk factor in their onset and progression. Additionally, individuals with obesity are more likely to develop a number of potentially serious health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, certain cancers and osteoarthritis, which can all worsen or complicate an existing injury. A comprehensive worksite health promotion plan will cover all of these factors and their associated risk, encouraging healthy lifestyle choices in employees.

3. Arthritis

Arthritis-attributable work limitations affect 1-in-20 working-age adults in the U.S. Early diagnosis, and the appropriate management can decrease pain, improve overall function, increase productivity and lower healthcare costs. Doctor and self-management education programs can provide the right techniques to manage symptoms on a daily basis. Physical activity and weight management programs are also important self-management activities for employees diagnosed with arthritis. 

4. Perception of the Workplace

Organizations with a culture where an employee feels supported and understood can lead to significantly higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment and morale. For an employer, this can reduce costs due to lower rates of absenteeism and turnover. Employees working in the most toxic cultures with little-to-no control over their job functions have nearly 50 percent more accidents on average. These employees may feel they are not free to openly  communicate safety improvements or that their leadership is too disengaged to consider their improvement suggestions and influence change.

5. Poor Work Practices

Overexertion is the leading cause of MSDs in the workplace. With labor shortages abound, there are many instances of fewer employees working longer hours with less training, leading to dangerous work environments. Workplace exposures that involve manual handling, forceful exertions, highly repetitive motions, awkward positioning and high temperatures are strongly associated with injury risk. Still, they can be limited with the right environmental safety program. Effective management of these hazards and evolving work demands requires top-down employee buy-in within an organization.