Sprains, Strains and Auto-hose Reels

Features - Employee Safety

How can PMPs use ergonomics to reduce injuries?

May 23, 2017

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of PCOC (Pest Control Operators of California) magazine. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.

It will come as no surprise to you that the leading on-the-job employee injuries are sprains, strains and contusions. The causes? Repetitive motion (thus the hose reel reference in the headline), slips and falls (falls are most often connected to ladder use). Short of the occasional fumigator falling from a roof, these injuries cross all types of pest control operations.

Many of these injuries fall under the diagnosis of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), a condition that can deeply affect your workforce. It is important to address the issues surrounding MSD and the concrete ways to minimize its impact.

Musculoskeletal disorders account for nearly one-third of all injuries that require days away from work. In 2014, U.S. employers lost 1.15 million work days due to MSDs, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Musculoskeletal disorders are often referred to as “ergonomic injuries” and affect the connective tissues of the body such as muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage and spinal discs. Examples include sprains and strains from lifting, hernias and carpal tunnel syndrome. MSDs are some of the most difficult and costly work-related injuries to treat in the pest management industry. (See infographic below.)

REDUCING MSD. Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population. Ergonomics is an approach or solution to deal with a number of problems — including work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

If your pest control company has never experienced an MSD injury, you may need only a basic ergonomics program. This involves assigning someone to be responsible for ergonomics. This person should provide information to employees on the risk of injuries, signs and symptoms to watch for, and the importance of reporting problems early. They should set up a system for employees to report signs and symptoms.

CONDUCIVE CONDITIONS. How do PMPs look for conditions that may contribute to musculoskeletal disorders?

Both work-related and non-work related conditions can, either individually or by interacting with each other, give rise to MSDs. Several approaches can determine whether conditions in the workplace might be contributing to employees developing MSDs. These approaches can be used individually or in combination.

Review and analyze injury and illness records to determine whether there is a pattern of ergonomics-related injuries in certain jobs or work tasks. Look at your company’s workers’ compensation claims and OSHA 300 logs and supporting 301 forms.

Analyze the jobs and work tasks to identify potential ergonomic problems before employee injuries occur. Determine if the jobs/tasks present ergonomic risks that may contribute to musculoskeletal disorders.

Think in terms of loading and carrying tarps (fumigation); operating compressed air sprayers and winding up hoses (general pest); and crawling and tool use (wood-destroying organisms). (Falls from ladders crosses all types of operations.) MSD lurks where there is strain and repetitive motion. These suggestions merely scratch the surface. What are the other potential problem areas in your company’s operation?

Analysis tools may help in evaluating those jobs and tasks prone to creating MSD injuries. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, numerous non-OSHA analysis tools can help you learn more about ergonomic-risks associated with specific jobs.

Seek employee input concerning the existence of ergonomic problems related to their jobs or work tasks. This can be accomplished by:

  • Speaking with employees
  • Conducting symptom surveys
  • Using employee questionnaires

Be aware of common contributing conditions within the pest management industry. If other pest management companies have ergonomic-related problems, it is possible these problems could affect your employees too. Obtain information from others in your industry to see what problems they have experienced in their operations and to gain a better understanding of potential problems that may exist in your workplace.

The author is principal and senior vice president, EPIC Insurance Brokers, for the PCOC Insurance Program. Learn more at www.epicbrokers.com.