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The MSD injury approach

November 14, 2011

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Musculoskeletal disorders represent nearly one-third of all injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work, a trend that has remained relatively unchanged over the past five years.

The nature of MSD injuries – also known as ergonomic injuries – is far more severe than a typical injury. Representing 29 percent of all injuries in 2010, MSD injuries led to 11 median days away from work, compared with 8 for all days-away-from-work cases, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released Nov. 9. The rate of MSD injuries per 10,000 full-time workers was 34 – second only to sprains, strains and tears (46.9).

MSD-related injuries leading to days away from work
Year Rate* Percent of total
2010 34 29%
2009 33 28%
2008 33 29%
2007 35 29%
2006 39 30%
* Per 10,000 full-time workers
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The problem is not that MSD injuries are increasing, but that they are staying relatively stable, as the table shows.

While holding the line is certainly better than large increases, maintaining essentially the same rates and means no major improvements have been made to reduce these types of injuries.

Some industries have it harder than others. Nine occupations have an MSD injury rate requiring days away from work that is higher than the general industry incidence rate for all injuries, which is 118 per 10,000 full-time workers:

  • Psychiatric aides – 299
  • Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants – 249
  • Emergency medical technicians and paramedics – 238
  • First-line supervisors/managers of firefighting and prevention workers – 199
  • Firefighters – 155
  • Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers – 155
  • Bus drivers, transit and intercity – 131
  • Reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks – 129
  • Truck drivers, light or delivery services – 125

The median number of days away from work for these nine occupations is 14. For workers with these jobs, the risk of MSD injuries is a virtual pandemic. OSHA administrator David Michaels recently noted that workplace injuries and illnesses can bring an “intolerable” toll on workers’ families. It also can be difficult for employers who have to deal with the costs associated with these injuries. There must be a better way.

The obvious approach would be through regulation – voluntary efforts across the board have not really made a dent in this issue. But an ergonomics standard is clearly never going to happen. So then the question is, what can OSHA and others do to really chip away at MSD injuries?

Michaels recently announced a National Emphasis Program on the nursing home industry that will focus on patient handling – is this the best way to go?

California recently passed a patient-lifting law – should the U.S. Congress act in some capacity to deal with the MSD problem? Or should the issue be taken up solely by the states?

I’m not sure what the best answer may be – but what do you think?

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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