01 Apr Is Your Work a Danger to You, or Are You a Danger to Yourself?
In my previous post, I suggested that many of the workers I helped were injured simply as a result of their own body movements. However, I am not blaming the individual workers for their injuries.
Based on the hundreds of workers referred to me by WorkSafeBC and many workplaces I have visited, I have noticed that many of these injuries are also a consequence of the combination of workplace culture, societal beliefs about fitness, limitations in the healthcare system, and even failure of school physical education programs.
1. Workers often have poor movement patterns, body mechanics, and posture
While many people have heavy job demands, surprisingly few have actually been taught how to perform their jobs in a way that optimizes mechanical efficiency and minimizes the stress on the body. Even workers who know to “lift with the legs” and to “not lift with the back” don’t actually understand good lifting technique.
People demonstrate poor movement patterns and posture even during light tasks such as simply when walking (let alone when walking while carrying a load) and even when sitting. The additional stresses that these sub-optimal movements and postures place on the body accumulate with time, making the body more vulnerable to pain and injury.
2. Workers often have insufficient fitness and health
Is the job “too heavy”, or is the body too weak? When material is stronger, it can tolerate greater forces before it becomes damaged. The same goes for the body. Yes, certain jobs are perhaps too heavy, as in the case of occupations such as furniture movers, appliance delivery drivers, and construction workers. In many cases, however, the culturally acceptable minimal level of strength and fitness is simply not high enough relative to what would be optimal for efficient and safe job performance. With so much undeniable evidence that strength and fitness improve with training, why do so many people act as if they have no ability to improve these? Why do we assume that women and older adults cannot do heavy jobs instead of encouraging them to strength train?
When people think of what it means to be fit, what usually comes to mind is cardiorespiratory fitness (the stamina to perform work for prolonged periods) and perhaps muscular fitness (strength and/or muscular endurance). They might even consider flexibility/mobility (or in contrast, assume that stretching is the solution to addressing/preventing pain and injury). However, the ability to perform fundamental human movement patterns is another component of fitness that is underappreciated and not often addressed, as discussed in point #1 above.
Again, it is also important to address the social and environmental factors affecting fitness and health and not to just place responsibility solely on the individual to ensure that he/she is strong and fit enough for the job.
3. Workplace cultures do not adequately promote worker health and safety
Workplace factors which significantly impact injury rates include:
- How much do the organization’s decision makers value its people vs. profit?
- How much training do staff receive about using proper body mechanics for job tasks?
- What corporate health and wellness benefits are available?
- Are staff allowed time and encouraged to do the exercises/stretches to prepare them for their work tasks, or do they feel rushed?
- How much do the people in the organization value being fit and healthy?
The issues contributing to workplace injury do not appear suddenly; thus, most organizations will need additional help to:
- Train their workers on optimal techniques for work, tailored to the individuals and specific job tasks.
- Assess workers to identify and correct suboptimal movement patterns.
- Screen job candidates and/or train workers to ensure their physical abilities are sufficient for efficient and safe job performance.
- Design job-specific on-the-job exercise routines for workers to promote efficient and safe job performance.
- Foster an organizational culture in which health and safety are valued and that is conducive to the health-oriented behaviours.