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What’s Stress Got to Do with It?

October 14, 2009 By: CartPro Category: ergonomics, Material Handling, Productivity Tips, Safety and Ergonomics

When we think about work stress we tend to focus on its impact on our daily job: cost overruns that threaten to push our project over budget, smoothing the ruffled feathers of a fellow employee, meeting sales projections, etc. But stress comes from multiple sources. There’s mental stress from trying to accomplish a goal, emotional stress from interacting with fellow workers, and physical stress resulting from overexertion. We’re human which means that stress is a daily occurrence, particularly in this economy. The problem is that chronic stress can affect performance — both mental and physical, decreasing effectiveness and productivity.

A new study published in the July issue of the journal Science shows that chronic stress actually rearranges the wiring in our brain. In a study with rats conducted jointly by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and researchers at the University of Minho in Portugal, stressed rats lost the ability to make effective decisions. Effective decision making, whether in the performance of mental or physical tasks, requires humans to choose the most productive option from a field of choices. When stress is unrelieved, people are more likely to make poor decisions. In the study, the portion of the brain associated with goal-directed behavior shrank while the area that controlled habit formation grew. Under perpetual stress, people, just like the rats in the study, lose the ability to make smart decisions and fall back on old habits.

Physical stress from overexertion, overreaching or cramped work platforms were as debilitating in eroding decision-making ability as emotional or mental stress. Interestingly, physical stress accelerated the erosion of mental abilities faster than other kinds of stress. Pain and discomfort seem to act more quickly on human stress thresholds than mere mental irritation. Utilizing ergonomically-designed material handling equipment is one smart way to decrease employee stress.

Two Factors Have Greatest Impact on Ergonomic Risk

October 07, 2009 By: CartPro Category: ergonomics, Material Handling, Productivity Tips, Safety and Ergonomics

Frequency and duration are the two factors that have the greatest impact on ergonomic risk. In developing or reviewing your company’s ergonomic plan, pay particular attention to the frequency and duration of tasks that stress the musculoskeletal system. Reducing the frequency or duration of these tasks will significantly decrease the incidence and severity of musculoskeletal injuries in your workplace. When not addressed, the frequency and duration of tasks that strain workers’ musculature or skeletal system have been proven to significantly increase the risk and expense of long-term injury and loss of function.

It makes sense that the more frequently a worker is required to perform a pushing, pulling, lifting or carrying task that causes overexertion or strain, the greater the risk of musculoskeletal injury. In fact, the repetitive performance of a task over time takes a similar toll on the body, even when muscle strain is not involved. The longer a worker is required to perform a task — duration — also increases the risk of injury. Interestingly, researchers at the National Safety Council have found that the presence of multiple ergonomic risk factors — as few as two — has a multiplicative rather than an additive effect on the likely development of musculoskeletal injury.

The following actions have been found to effectively reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injury in the workplace:

  • Decreasing the number of risk factors present in the workplace. Ergonomically-designed carts, tugs, scissor lifts and similar material handling equipment can be used to perform manual tasks that involve pushing, pulling, lifting and transporting, taking the burden off workers, reducing injury risk and improving productivity.
  • Providing sufficient recovery time between task sessions. Providing rest breaks allows muscle recovery between work sessions. Rotating workers through a variety of tasks limits their risk exposure. But the most productive solution is utilization of ergonomic material handling equipment that enables repeated performance of a specialized task without injury risk.

Florida Conference to Focus on Ergonomics

July 29, 2009 By: CartPro Category: ergonomics, Safety and Ergonomics, Trade Shows

The Central Florida Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) will host a one-day ergonomics conference on November 4, 2009 in Orlando, Florida. The purpose of the conference is to help business leaders develop proactive ergonomic programs and practices within their workplaces to identify and reduce the risk factors that result in often debilitating musculoskeletal injuries.

Musculoskeletal injuries that damage the body’s connective tissues — muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage and spinal discs — accounted for 29% of all workplace injuries in 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That year more than 335,000 musculoskeletal injuries required an average work absence of 9 days, more than 4 times the average 2-day absence required by most workplace injuries. When incorporated in equipment design and the development of workplace procedures, ergonomics has been proven to significantly reduce the risk and incidence of musculoskeletal injury.

“Ergonomics affects virtually every aspect of the safety profession, from machine use to construction safety to office set-up,” ASSE Central Florida Chapter President Jeff Spackman told OH&S (Occupational Health & Safety) online. “As an ASSE chapter, we do everything possible to be of the greatest value to our members who are committed to protecting people, property, and the environment. We felt holding a development conference on this very important topic would be of the greatest value to the greatest number of our members.”

The November conference will feature two general and four concurrent sessions covering ergonomic design and practices in various settings, including industrial, construction, workstation and office. Worker’s compensation issues, injury prevention and rehabilitation will also be addressed. The keynote address will be presented by Isabel Perry, Ph. D., president of TheSafetyDoctor.com. Among other scheduled speakers are Daniel McCune, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University safety director; Eric Austin, Amerisure Insurance senior loss control consultant; Ronald Porter, director of Back School of Atlanta; and Michael Belcher, ASSE Region IV VP and director of safety at DS Waters of America.

Click here for more information and to register for the November 4 ergonomic conference at the Orlando Repertory Theater in Orlando, Florida.

Ergonomics Opponents Girding for Battle

February 25, 2009 By: CartPro Category: Material Handling, OSHA, Safety and Ergonomics

California Democratic Representative Hilda Solis was confirmed yesterday as President Obama’s Secretary of Labor by a Senate vote of 80-17. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is already said to be marshalling its forces. With a very pro-labor Solis at the helm, the chamber is anticipating a pitched battle over reinstatement — and probably toughening and expansion — of ergonomics laws instituted under Clinton but quickly wiped off the books by Bush.

Solis hails from California, the only state with ergonomics laws that have any bite to them — though Michigan is struggling to pass similar measures. California forces employers into compliance when workplace practices are found wanting. Business leaders and chamber executives fear that Solis will use the tough California model to craft national laws mandating ergonomic practices. Solis has been a persistent champion of labor rights and national ergonomics laws since her election to the U.S. House in 2001.

Solis can expect to have the President’s backing. On the campaign trail last year, Obama discussed the need to address musculoskeletal injuries, telling the Charlotte Observer that OSHA “must attack this problem with all of the tools at its disposal — regulations, enforcement, training and compliance assistance.” He is expected to reverse the Bush administration’s stance on national ergonomic standards.

The chamber considers national ergonomics standards to be “the mother of all regulations,” charging that they would cost businesses millions of dollars, which they call unconscionable at any time, but particularly given the current economy. In stumping against ergonomics regulations, the Chamber cites not only prohibitive expense, but suggests potential for substantial abuse. Opponents of ergonomics laws fear that businesses will be held legally liable for employee musculoskeletal and repetitive motion injuries that happen off the job.

“Let’s fact it: We all go through things in our lives as simple as bad sleeping habits or exercise or recreational activities that would cause our bodies to feel discomfort,” Mare Freedman, director of labor law policy for the chamber told Rob Hotakainen, a reporter with McClatchy Newspapers.

Supporters of national ergonomics laws cite rising health care costs and continuing workplace hazards that take a serious toll on U.S. workers as compelling reasons for instituting national ergonomics standards. Freedman said the chamber doesn’t dispute that providing a safe and healthy workplace is good business practice; however, the group thinks efforts should be voluntary, not mandated. Supporters of ergonomics, charge that many employers won’t act unless forced.

Does Obama Have Muscle to Win Ergonomics Fight?

February 23, 2009 By: CartPro Category: Business Tips, Future Trends, OSHA, Safety and Ergonomics

Like actor Mickey Rourke’s amazing return to the Hollywood ring in The Wrestler, labor is back; and President Obama is in its corner cheering its revival. After eight years struggling on the ropes during the Bush administration, labor has bounced back into the Washington ring and is gaining strength — and it’s bringing the ergonomics fight with it.

“I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem; to me it’s part of the solution,” President Obama was widely quoted as saying recently. During his campaign, Obama repeatedly promised American workers a safer, healthier work environment. Industry watchers have taken that to mean a return to and an expansion of the ergonomic standards initiated during the Clinton administration but quickly rescinded under Bush. With a Democratic-controlled Congress backing him up, Obama appears to have the muscle to force ergonomics back into the legislative ring.

By naming California Democratic Representative Hilda Solis as his new Labor Secretary, Obama appears to be saying to U.S. industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a long-time vocal foe of ergonomics legislation, “Bring it on!” Although she’s still running the confirmation gauntlet, Solis has received the recommendation of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and is expected to be confirmed, possibly as soon as tomorrow.

The daughter of immigrants and union workers, Solis has long ties to labor groups and has been a champion of ergonomics in the workplace since joining the House of Representatives in 2001. Her home state of California is the only state in the U.S. that mandates ergonomic standards that force employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment for their workers. Concerned about the cost of implementing ergonomic standards, those opposed to ergonomic legislation fear that California’s tough ergonomics rules will be used to create a national model.

That Obama would eventually grapple with ergonomics to improve labor conditions has been a given since his campaign days. But there’s been a lot of speculation in the industry and in Washington about how and when Obama would try to take down ergonomic opponents. By calling Solis into his corner, Obama seems to be getting ready to enter the ring. It will be interesting to listen to the President’s State of the Union speech tomorrow night. A direct statement about ergonomics or workplace safety could indicate that the fight is on!