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Safety And Security

Safety And Ergonomics: A Winning Industry Combination

September 19, 2010
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According to data from the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD), 10 occupations account for 35 percent (70,238) of all musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) lost-time injuries.

And, according to most experts and organizations, the custodial worker is high on that list.

Recent workers'' compensation data from the state of Washington shows that six out of every 100 janitors have lost-time injuries every year.

A need for ergonomic tools and supplier partners that always prioritize end user safety are today''s cleaning department''s must-haves.

MSDs Defined

MSDs can affect the body''s muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves.

Most work-related MSDs develop over time and are caused either by the work itself or by the employees'' working environment.

Repetitive, strenuous motions, such as pushing and pulling a bulky vacuum, can lead to such injuries.

Without tools and equipment that have ergonomic features, cleaning workers are forced to handle buckets, mops, brooms, rags, autoscrubbers and so on at an uncomfortable, and painful, level.

Health problems range from discomfort, minor aches and pains to more serious medical conditions requiring time off from work and even medical treatment.

In more chronic cases, treatment and recovery are often unsatisfactory and the result could be permanent disability and loss of employment.

The main causes of aches, pains and discomfort in cleaners are:

  • Manual handling
  • Awkward postures
  • Work organization, including work speed and poor training
  • Using vibrating equipment.

Ergonomics Prevails

Studying the effects of repetitive motions on the human body dates as far back as the 18th Century.

However, the science of using ergonomics in the workplace didn''t take firm hold until the 20th Century.

In 1971, The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 paved the way for a special agency within the U.S. Department of Labor.

The agency became know as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and has played an integral part in ergonomics'' success.

While the use of ergonomic tools was in full swing by 2002, arguably the biggest lift to the movement happened when OSHA initiated standards and guidelines.

In April 2002, then-Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao unveiled a comprehensive approach to ergonomics designed to quickly and effectively address MSDs in the workplace.

OSHA developed a four-pronged ergonomics strategy to meet this goal through a combination of industry-specific and task-specific guidelines, outreach, enforcement and research.

OSHA''s approach included:

  • Guidelines: OSHA will develop industry- or task-specific guidelines for a number of industries based on current incidence rates and available information about effective and feasible solutions.

  • Enforcement: OSHA will conduct inspections for ergonomic hazards and issue citations under the General Duty Clause and issue ergonomic hazard alert letters where appropriate.

  • Outreach and Assistance: OSHA will provide assistance to businesses, particularly small businesses, and help them proactively address ergonomic issues in the workplace.

  • National Advisory Committee: OSHA will charter an advisory committee that will be authorized to, among other things, identify gaps in research to the application of ergonomics and ergonomic principles in the workplace.

For complete information, please visit www.osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/four-pronged_factsheet.html.

There is an obvious need to protect cleaning workers from injuries, including increasing morale and productivity and controlling liability costs, not to mention keeping workers safe and happy.

According to OSHA, "Companies that implement effective safety and health [programs] can expect reductions of 20 percent or greater in injury or illness rates and a return of investment of $4 to $6 for every $1 invested."

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