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Insurance - Controlling ergonomic risks in construction

image Mark Gaskamp CSP, CRM, CIC, CPCU, ARM, ALCM Managing Director, Wortham, L.L.C., Austin, TX

AUSTIN - What is the leading cause of lost time accidents in construction? The answer: LIFTING & MATERIAL HANDLING.







    In fact, over one third of all lost time injuries in construction are associated with strains and overexertion.  Yet there is nothing within the OSHA 1926 Standard that addresses strain or ergonomic injuries. Just because there is no OSHA specific requirement, many organizations fail to address this critical worker safety/injury risk.
    Construction is hard work and requires physical effort to get the job done, so should we just throw up our hands and say that is just part of the business?  NO, there are specific things that can be done to reduce the risk of strains and material handling injuries.
    A good start is to follow the guidelines outlined in the ANSI A10.40 - Reduction of Musculoskeletal Problems in Construction.  This consensus standard offers a process for addressing “musculoskeletal problems” from identification to injury management.  For more information on the ANSI standard you may obtain a copy at the ANSI web store (ansi.org).
    There are also industry best practices that have helped many organizations reduce the risk for ergonomic injuries and associated costs. 
    Identify High Risk Tasks: Utilizing your current JHA (Job Hazard Analysis) or JSA (Job Safety Analysis) process to identify and address ergonomic issues is a great tool. It does not take a professional ergonomist to conduct a job analysis. Many times there are simple solutions to a very high risk job like getting a material handling aid or require a two-person lift. 
    Identify Safe & Unsafe Work Practices: Does your job site inspection checklist only include OSHA standards?  If so, you are missing over half your accidents.  Adding “unsafe behaviors” to your job site inspection checklists can be very helpful. Examples include: proper lifting techniques used, proper body positioning for job task (no overreaching or twisting), or team lifting or material handling aid used when necessary.
    Individual ACCOUNTABILITY: Just like any other safety initiative (PPE, ladder safety, equipment use) workers must be held accountable for poor behaviors.  If they fail to use proper lifting techniques or specific material handling requirements it is imperative that supervisors counsel them just like any other safety violation. 
    Education: Training is #6 on the ANSI list, so look for solutions above before opting to “train” to fix a problem.  If supervisors understand how the back works and workers know the risk and understand proper lifting techniques, they will be more inclined to use good habits and can be held accountable for not following proper material handling procedures.
    Employee Involvement & Capabilities: Making sure employees are fit for work can help avoid muscle strain.  Many organizations have found success in implementing simple stretches prior to the work shift (at the tool box meeting is a great idea).  Some of you may be visualizing your job site foreman instructing calisthenics on the job site at 6am, (although that might not be a bad idea). That is not what I am talking about - providing simple stretches for upper extremities, back, and hamstrings can provide good blood circulation and prepare the muscles for their shift. 
    Accident Review & Injury Management: Many times the worst accident investigations are those for material handling injuries.  Why? Because it’s hard, and it takes time to determine what exactly caused the injury.  Investigating the exact cause and evaluating what steps that can be taken to prevent reoccurrence is a vital part of the process to help avoid a reoccurrence of the same injury. It is also imperative that opportunities to return to work are identified to reduce lost time claims and indemnity payments for injured workers.  The recent experience modifier calculation changes make this even more important from a financial standpoint.  
    Preventing material handling injuries on the job site is not an easy job.  Understanding the cost of ergonomic claims and their impact on the organizations experience modifier can help generate interest in looking for solutions to address this critical area of your safety program.  Spending a bit of time in this area can save big dollars and avoid the pain and agony of a back ailment.
    For more information visit www.worthaminsurance.com or contact Mark
at (512) 532-1536 or mark.gaskamp@worthaminsurance.com

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