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Jun 2016

A Safer Workplace: How to prevent Cumulative Trauma Disorders


painful elbow

What are Cumulative Trauma Disorders?

CTD’s, also known as repetitive stress injuries, are found in every workplace. When we think of work-related injuries we often envision a single, traumatic accident that results in significant damage for the victim. While these single, isolated events do occur, there are injuries that are the result of an accumulation of smaller, seemingly harmless actions. These actions, over a long period of time, can cause injuries that are an incredible nuisance for employees. Repetitive stress injuries can slash productivity, cost the company money over time, and be just as debilitating as an injury from a ‘major accident’.

So, what are some types of CTD’s? The chances are you have experienced one of these repetitive stress injuries at some point during your lifetime; whether related to work or not. Basically, a CTD is an injury developed over time by placing repeated stress on a part of the body. For example, bad posture could result in back pain. Although standing or sitting with poor posture is fairly insignificant in the moment, the stress it places on the structure of the body can result in an injury if continued over a long period of time. Carpel tunnel is another CTD that many workers suffer from. This injury is often caused by poor typing posture, and is experienced by many office workers. Additionally, workers who are engaged in physical labor may experience inflammatory injuries such as tendonitis and bursitis. These injuries are often the result of muscle/tendon strain, repetitive movements, or excessive pressure on one spot on the body.

How do CTD’s affect the workplace?

 Cumulative trauma disorders affect the workplace in a variety of ways. First and foremost, these injuries hamper the ability of an affected employee to work to their full potential. These kinds of injuries can make it very difficult for an employee to carry out his or her job, and thus will decrease productivity levels. CTD’s are very common in the workplace. In fact, over 30% of all work-related injuries that resulted in missed work were due to some form of a repetitive stress injury. Not only so, by CTD’s also are the cause of over 17 billion dollars a year spent on treatment and insurance. Additionally, it is estimated that repetitive stress injuries affect nearly 2 million workers every year.

What can you do to reduce the effects of CTD’s?

Effectively undermining the root cause of CTD’s does not fall on a single action. Rather, just as CTD’s are a result of an accumulation of trauma, so the solution is the result of a change of habit. Here are some ways in which the number, and severity, of CTD’s can be reduced:

  1. Correct poor posture. Many CTD’s such as carpel tunnel can be prevented by applying healthy posture to everyday movements. For example, when typing, employees should focus on sitting up straight on the edge of the seat. The wrists should be angled perpendicular to the keyboard, and there should be no hyperextension of the wrist. Additionally, other forms of posture such as proper lifting technique can help prevent tendonitis in the lower back.
  2. Wear the appropriate clothing. It is crucial that you are prepared for the tasks your job requires. Employees who expect to spend a lot of time kneeling or lying down should wear proper padding. This will reduce the chances of developing bursitis from constant pressure on the knees, elbows, or other joints.
  3. Take appropriate rests! The body needs time to recover from physical strain. Even a short rest of only a few minutes can greatly reduce the chance of developing a repetitive stress injury.
  4. Use an ergonomic system to combat CTD’s. Ergonomics is the study of how a person works within their immediate environment. An ergonomic system will include:
    1. An analysis of the workplace and how employees act within that environment
    2. Identification of potential hazards that could lead to a CTD
    3. Education/training for employees on the threat of CTD’s
    4. Effective leadership that includes the employees in the process. Employee engagement is crucial.
    5. Finally, encouraging proper diet and exercise, as always, will increase the overall wellbeing of employees. Proper nutrition and cardiovascular exercise greatly improve physical health, while also reducing the chance for injury; including CTD’s.

In the end, the prevention of CTD’s in the workplace funnels down to decisive action. Employers need to educate employees on the simple things; such as posture, lifting technique, nutrition, and rest. Improving employee awareness, and making it a priority to establish good habits will go a long way in reducing the prevalence of CTD’s.

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