Repetitive tasks, awkward postures, twisting and turning, or forceful exertions at work are often associated with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as neck or back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, or tendinitis. These are disorders or injuries that affect muscles, tendons, nerves, discs, ligaments, etc. They remain a leading work-related condition. About 30% of all injuries and illnesses involving lost days from work are associated with repetitive motion and/or overexertion (BLS).
In manufacturing industries, upper limb musculoskeletal injuries account for approximately one-third of the injuries with lost work days. The prevention of musculoskeletal disorders is one of the priority goals of the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) for the Manufacturing Sector. We are interested in learning what resources you use to help combat MSDs in your workplace. Read through this blog and tell us more about where you go for information and what you would like to see made available to you in the future. Thank you in advance for helping us to provide you with products and information that can help create safer and healthier workplaces.
Finding Quality MSD Prevention Resources
As MSDs are so common, in recent years we have seen a proliferation of advertised solutions and products that are directed at MSD prevention. Internet searches yield many examples, and numerous claims, of success stories in the identification and control of MSD risk factors. Several sources collect case studies that you can read, and some sources allow users to submit their own success stories. In general these are not centralized, and come in a variety of formats and vary widely in quality. Many are for the purpose of marketing and commercial interest. The bottom line is that it can be difficult to decide whether to try any of the solutions. A word of caution in seeking assistance in preventing MSDs: if you ask experts for advice, ask for evidence that their recommendations are effective at preventing MSDs –AND- consider the quality of the evidence supporting their recommendations. Unfortunately, evidence supporting effectiveness can range from a “success story” based on a single example to high quality evidence involving formalized testing through cross-sectional or (better yet) prospective experimental design. The NIOSH 2001 “Guide to Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Work Injuries: How to Show Whether a Safety Intervention Really Works” covers this. While the term “best practice” has become commonplace, for practices to be accepted as best, they must truly be supported by evidence of effectiveness and require a stronger quality and quantity of evidence than a single case study in a specific environment with a specific group of affected workers. CDC has issued guidance to address the criteria for, and development of, a public health best practice (CDC Best Practices Workgroup ).
NIOSH and NIOSH-supported MSD Resources
NIOSH has summarized research-based findings and recommendations for prevention of MSDs, which can be found on the NIOSH Ergonomics Topic Page. NIOSH has also provided support for other groups to develop resources to reduce MSD. The Center for Construction Research and Training-CPWR has a publicly accessible library of solutions for construction hazards that includes MSD hazards, and some are applicable to other industries. This database is structured to facilitate search by type of work, task, or by hazard. Many of the searchable hazard categories are MSD-related such as stooped postures, lifting and carrying, overhead work, kneeling and squatting, hand-arm-vibration, etc. Another site, from the University of California Berkeley, lists about 30 case studies, with well-presented description and analysis. The site contains a template for case study submission. More recently, NIOSH supported the development of an online database of ergonomics solutions to help reduce the risk factors for workplace MSDs through a Small Business Innovation Research Grant (SBIRG).
In an attempt to help safety and health professionals navigate these and other MSD resources, a workgroup within the NORA Manufacturing Sector Council searched for solutions to MSD problems that are specific to or transferable to manufacturing industries. To be included, the resources needed to be easy to access, understand, and transfer to manufacturing workplaces. They also needed to be based on documented results of some field-based evaluation. Below is a list of internet resources (in addition to the NIOSH and NIOSH-supported MSD Resources mentioned above) that met the criteria we used with brief descriptions of each resource. References to products or services do not constitute an endorsement by NIOSH or the U.S. government.
- OSHA’s website contains resources and useful solutions, including training materials.
- Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has a searchable Ergonomics Ideas Bank with more than 150 cases. Input of new cases is encouraged.
- ERGOWEB contains 58 case searchable studies describing before, after, risk factor, engineering control, benefits, and comments.
- Go Ergo contains more than 70 categorized case studies and presentations on ergonomics that are submitted by users. It is maintained by the Institute of Industrial Engineers, which presents the Ergo Cup®. New submissions are welcome.
- Safework Australia describes several meat packing case studies in a pdf document. Good technical detail and explanation of interventions.
- The British Health and Safety Executive site contains several case studies and other helpful resources.
- The Cochrane Occupational Safety and Health Review Group has 18 systematic reviews on the effectiveness of intervention to prevent or treat MSDs. (look under 2.1.9 Diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue and 3.1 Measures to rehabilitate workers or facilitate disabled workers to stay at work or return to work). See also Diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue.
- The Campbell Institute Library offers a thoughtful collection of cases studies in safety and health and includes critically examined ergonomic solutions.
- While Ergonomics Plus’s website does not include cases, it contains a number of free tools and resources of high quality.
We would like some feedback from you on this resource list. Have you used any of the NIOSH or other resources? What did you like or dislike about them? Your input will help the NORA Manufacturing Sector Council and our readers learn about centralized resources or databases of solutions currently available to companies and safety and health professionals for MSD prevention and control. Once we have a better understanding of what is available, we can determine what resources are needed and where we can contribute. Feel free to add other sources you refer to for ideas, solutions, and other information on MSD prevention and ergonomics specific to manufacturing. Thank you for your assistance in identifying and improving the dissemination of resources that can help tackle work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
Tom Slavin MS, MBA, CIH, CSP, CSHM, CPEA; Kristine Krajnak, Ph.D.; Brian D. Lowe, Ph.D., CPE; Thais C. Morata, Ph.D.
Mr. Slavin is a consulting industrial hygienist for Cardno ChemRisk and a member of the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Manufacturing Sector Council.
Dr. Krajnak is a research biologist in the NIOSH Health Effects Laboratory Division and a member of the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Manufacturing Sector Council.
Dr. Lowe is a Research Industrial Engineer and Certified Professional Ergonomist with the Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Team in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.
Dr. Morata is a Research Audiologist in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology and the Coordinator of the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Manufacturing Sector Council.