Preventing Work-Related Injuries In High-Risk Workplaces

Health, Safety & Ergonomics
Logistics, warehousing, manufacturing and other industries involving high amounts of manual handling rank amongst the most dangerous workplaces in terms of non-fatal injuries and illnesses.
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), workplace injuries are most commonly caused by overexertion while handling goods, followed by falls, slips and trips. It is often possible to completely prevent or greatly reduce the risk of such injuries by introducing the correct equipment and protocols. When this is done well, it will not only improve the workforce's health and job satisfaction ratings, but also a facility's efficiency and bottom line.  

What Are Work-Related Injuries and Their Common Causes?

The definition of a work-related injury is any injury or illness caused or significantly aggravated by events in the workplace. In the United States alone, the total cost of injuries due to work-related accidents and other events adds up to more than $170 billion, according to the NSC. Medical expenses make up part of this figure, but the productivity losses and administrative expenses are even larger. NSC statistics also tells us that the most common work-related injury events that result in lost workdays are:
  1. Overexertion from lifting, lowering and repetitive motions, which account for more than 33.5% of the total amount of injuries.
  2. Contact with objects and equipment, such as being struck by or caught between materials. This is the second most common type of injury making up for 26%.
  3. Slips, trips and falls are almost as common, making up 25.8% of the total.
The injuries caused by these events are most frequently sprains, strains or tears, soreness or pain, and cuts, lacerations or punctures. In the private sector, most injuries occur in the logistics, manufacturing, construction and maintenance/repair industries.  

How to Prevent Work-Related Injuries – General Strategies

 Completely preventing workplace injuries altogether is the common aim of most businesses. But where to start? All businesses and logistics facilities differ to some extent and will therefore require individual approaches. However, many will benefit from these general preventative strategies:
  • Provide adequate training: Insufficient training focussing on how to safely operate equipment, machinery and vehicles is the root cause of many work-related accidents. Always make sure that any staff member who may be asked to operate potentially hazardous equipment, has completed all the relevant training to enable them to do so safely. A high safety standard also needs to be created and demonstrated by management staff and kept up to date.
  • Incorporate a safety plan: A safety plan is essential for injury prevention and creating a safe working environment. It should be based on an assessment of potentially hazardous procedures within the individual workplace, and should ensure compliance with industry regulations. The safety plan may include, for example, rules and checklists for operating equipment, procedures for reporting hazardous behaviour or practices, emergency response instructions and other relevant guidelines.
  • Research and follow up on safety risk exposure: Again, all businesses face different safety challenges. An example of a vulnerability could be a specific procedure or situation where accidents happen more frequently. Research the cause of these incidents and develop a strategy to keep them from happening.
  • Discourage high-risk behaviour: Accidents are much more likely to occur in a workplace where employees are under pressure to push themselves too hard, perhaps taking shortcuts to improve output. While it's natural to encourage productivity efficiency, this must never come at the expense of safety. Find ways to emphasise that the company is better off when employees stay safe and healthy rather than taking unnecessary risks.
  • Provide protective equipment: When working in an environment which requires extra safety measures such as personal safety equipment, make sure you provide and enforce the use of the equipment such as hard hats, face protection and safety shoes – and take time to train employees how to use it properly.
  • Ensure that equipment and vehicles are properly maintained: Neglecting maintenance checks on equipment and vehicles is both costly and a common cause of severe accidents. Implementing a policy to ensure that vehicles and other equipment, including powered material handling solutions, are serviced between recommended timeframes is an important safety measure.
  • Supervise and support employees: All employees should have quick access to a supervisor if they have questions they may need to ask urgently. Supervision will also ensure that employees perform the right tasks in the correct manner, which helps avoid uncertainty and unnecessary risk-taking. This is particularly important at large facilities where staff members are not always aware of each other's roles or how to perform them with the least risk involved.
  • Provide effective tools and equipment: Repetitive or heavy manual handling of materials is often the cause of not only fatigue, but also work-related back injuries, shoulder pain, wrist pain and other debilitating issues. Using vacuum lifters, hoists, cranes, conveyor systems and other handling equipment will greatly reduce the risk of injuries sustained in the workplace.

Ergonomics is Key in Workplace Injury Prevention

Logistics and manufacturing facilities often emphasise accident prevention, which of course is highly important. However, it is also important not to overlook the role of industrial ergonomics in work-related injury prevention. Poor ergonomics is a very common cause of severe and long-term injuries that will inevitably affect employee health and productivity.
As previously discussed, more than a third of work-related injuries are due to overexertion from moving, lifting, lowering and repetitive motions – all of which relate to ergonomics and could be improved by using different equipment.

What is Industrial Ergonomics?

Industrial ergonomics studies how to design and use industrial equipment in ways that expose the workforce to less health risks. It can also be explained as adapting the man-machine interface and/or working procedures to suit natural movements rather than workers having to strain or stretch to suit old methods of working. In comparison, office ergonomics would usually focus on details such as wrist support, chair and monitor adjustments, sitting position or the type of keyboard used. All of these factors are fairly easy to adjust and at a minor expense, however the opposite often applies in industrial ergonomics, where advanced equipment is typically needed to assist with heavy lifting or assembly procedures. Providing workers with the equipment they need to work ergonomically in an industrial setting often requires large investments both in terms of time and financially. These investments do come with major advantages in the long term though, including happier and healthier employees, as well as considerable improvements in productivity and efficiency.  

Ergonomic Hazards in Material Handling – And Solutions

Many ergonomic hazards in material handling are due to heavy or incorrectly performed manual handling activities. Lifting heavy objects causes strain and exhaustion that may lead to back pain, as do twisting and jarring motions when lifting. Education in ergonomically correct lifting techniques is an important first step in mitigating the risk of injury and is equally important when using lifting equipment. This cannot however guarantee that all risks associated with manual handling will be eliminated. A proactive solution to many ergonomic hazards is to minimise manual handling as much as physically possible. Investing in a tailored vacuum lifting and handling solution will help to:
  • Greatly reduce staff exhaustion by eliminating most of the effort needed to lift heavy loads.
  • Reduce stress on back and shoulders, which is a central cause of acute and long-term injury.
  • Facilitate easy staff rotation. Since anyone can now lift heavy goods, streamlined staff rotation will mitigate the risks of work-related injuries caused by repetitive tasks.
  • Reduce twisting and bending motions – vacuum lifters are built for effortless tilting and swivelling.
Other than the major ergonomic benefits and reduced risk of accidents, vacuum lifters also considerably reduce cycle times. TAWI's bespoke lifting solutions can be fitted with a range of tools to suit any workflow. Don't hesitate to get in touch today to take the first steps in reducing health and safety risks to your workforce.

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