Safety Focus: Preventing Strain Injuries from Repetitive Motions

Worker kneeling

Repetitive strain injuries occur from an extended buildup of damage to muscles, tendons, and nerves due to repetitive work activities. They are among the most common type of workplace injury. A 2016 examination by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that injuries involving repetitive motion strains resulted in the longest time away from work. In an ALMA study of cases from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2019 based on total incurred cost of claims, AEU discovered that strains from repetitive motions accounted for 8.9% of the total cost of all claims.  

Repetitive motion strains can take a prolonged time to heal and often negatively affect an injured worker's quality of life for many years. Treatment may include extended time off from work, physical therapy, drug prescriptions, steroid injections and even surgery. These types of strains can limit a worker’s abilities and even prevent them from ever being able to go back to their normal job functions. It is for these reasons that repetitive motion strains can be such costly and detrimental injuries for an employer.

 

Strain Injuries from Repetitive Motions are Controllable

Repetitive motion injuries are a persistent hazard, but they can be controlled. Workers should use their personal knowledge of the workplace to make improvements to work processes. The goal is to "work smarter, not harder”.

Employees should be aware of the risk factors that can lead to repetitive motion injuries and should pay attention to symptoms to prevent an injury before it happens. Management and labor must work together as a team to make the workplace safer, healthier, and smarter in reducing repetitive motion injury hazards.

A participatory ergonomics program that utilizes workers as the experts in identifying problems and finding solutions will be the most successful. Components of an effective ergonomics program should include:

  • Management commitment and worker involvement 
  • Hazard Information and Reporting
  • Job Hazard Analysis and Control 
  • Training 
  • Musculoskeletal Disorder Medical Management 
  • Program Evaluation

 

Understanding Exposures for Repetitive Strain Injuries

Within maritime operations, we see numerous exposures that can contribute to repetitive strain injuries.  Some of these include:

  • Frequent lifting of heavy items
  • Repetitive manual material handling activities
  • Prolonged use of tools and equipment
  • Recurring stress to the body from repeated motions in activities such as welding, grinding, running cables, fitting pipe, cleaning, painting, blasting, driving, or working at a desk.  

 

It is important that the company identify potential repetitive strain hazards and implement effective controls to reduce exposures.  Some of the risk factors to consider when evaluating activities that may lead to repetitive strains include:

  • Workers in awkward postures 
  • Highly repetitive tasks
  • Workers in static postures
  • Use of high vibration tools
  • Use of poorly designed tools
  • Work environments that can cause contact stress

Photos illustrating some repetitive motion strain exposures can be found on the  Safety Focus: Strains From Repetitive Motions page on the ALMA member resource website.


Exclusive for ALMA Members: Strains From Repetitive Motions Resource Site

As part of our monthly Safety Focus initiative, the ALMA member resource website has  a page providing safety resources related to strains from repetitive motions. Resources include:

  • OSHA and NIOSH materials
  • Guidance for use of hand tools and other manual materials
  • Common causes and systems to eliminate exposure to strains from repetitive motions
  • A facility poster to encourage workers to prevent strains
  • A comprehensive strain injury prevention guidance document
  • Toolbox talks
  • Safety bulletins 
ALMA members may access that page  by clicking here (login required). If you have not yet registered for access,  click here to do so.

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Related Topics

Ergonomics, Safety, Strains