Strain injuries can be devastating to the injured worker and often result in a lengthy recovery. Employers are likely to lose a highly trained and skilled worker for an extended period, which may require a replacement to be hired and/or trained. This is an example of the “hidden cost” of a claim that is not covered by workers' compensation insurance.
Some of the factors that may contribute to an individual experiencing a strain injury include work history, sports or athletic history, general fitness, and fatigue. These factors are also cumulative, which is why many strains from lifting happen while the worker is lifting something they consider routine. Because of this, strategies to reduce strain injuries must also be long-term and cumulative. Proper lifting techniques must be taught, practiced, and reinforced consistently. Team lifts, mechanical lifting aids, and other lifting assists must be taught and identified during a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or other job assessments. If a company decides to implement a stretch and flex program, the program should be followed routinely to ensure that employees get the maximum benefit from the practice.
The industries covered by the U.S. Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act ("Longshore Act") face many exposures to strain injuries. In the course of their duties, workers are frequently required to move heavy and/or bulky objects. Scheduling pressures may influence workers to believe that they cannot take the time to arrange for a mechanical lifting aid or buddy lift. Additional pressure may be felt from their peers if they are perceived to be avoiding moving objects because they are lazy or weak. When performing a risk assessment to develop a strain injury prevention plan, both the physical demands of the work and the cultural influences of the workplace should be taken into consideration and addressed.
While preventing strain injuries from lifting may seem like a daunting task, there are proven steps that you can take to prevent injury and improve workplace efficiency. This process begins by assessing the specific exposures to workers in their particular work environment.
Photos illustrating some repetitive motion strain exposures can be found on the Safety Focus: Strains From Lifting page on the ALMA member resource website.
As part of our monthly Safety Focus initiative, the ALMA member resource website has a page providing safety resources related to strains from lifting. Resources include: