In 2014, it is estimated that the construction industry lost around $46 million due to what are called work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD). These are the strains and sprains that come with working in the construction industry for a living. A study released in 2017 indicates that the majority of these injuries are most frequent in workers who have been on the job for five years or more, and the most common types of WMSD worker injuries are related to the back.
The study showed that the number of WMSD’s reported dropped from 55,000 in 1992 to 18, in 2014, but the time lost is on the rise. In 1992 the average worker lost eight days of work time to WMSD injuries, but that number increased to 13 days in 2014. Experts point to better ergonomic solutions in the workplace as one of the main reasons for the drop, but there is still much that can be done.
Identifying The Potential For WMSDs
The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that worker injuries related to WMSDs caused time lost that was four days longer than any other type of non-fatal injuries. There are two reasons that workers lose so much time to WMSD injuries. For one thing, doctors always send workers back to work after a WMSD injury on light duty only, and light duty can be hard to find on a construction site. This forces workers to take more time off until they recover enough to go back to work.
Another reason that WMSDs are so damaging to a company’s workforce is the wide variety of injuries that can occur on a job site. Some of the most common types of WMSD injuries are:
- Bending or twisting in awkward positions either suddenly or for long periods of time
- Constantly repeating the same type of motion over and over again
- Being repeatedly exposed to constant and violent vibrations
- Staying in one position for long periods of time without moving
- Using the wrong tools to get the jobs done
All of these conditions can be found on any construction workplace, and experts agree that more needs to be done to protect workers from long-term injuries. The number of workers ages 55 to 64 affected by WMSDs is growing, and that can create a strain on the economy through the need for extended health care.
What Causes These Problems?
While advances have been made in preventing WMSD worker injuries, there are still not enough ergonomic solutions being used to prevent long-term injuries. Workers still need access to the proper equipment to make sure that they are not straining or experiencing unnecessary and repetitive abuse to get their work done.
Another issue is that work supervisors do not do a good enough job utilizing the workforces they have to get jobs done without injuring workers. The idea of forcing one worker to carry heavy loads on their own all day long contributes to the onset of severe back pain. By not planning the execution of project tasks, supervisors put workers in dangerous positions that can cause pain that may never go away.
Older Workers Are More At Risk For Injuries
The aforementioned study that was released in 2017 states that an aging construction workforce is part of the issue when it comes to time lost because of WMSDs. An older worker is going to require a longer recovery time from these recurring injuries, and that causes construction companies to have to constantly rearrange the workers they have to make up for the lost manpower.
The current strain on the construction industry that has seen a desperate need for workers is also not helping. To get projects done without the enough manpower, the workers who are working on projects are asked to do more and absorb more punishment to their bodies. When some of these workers are forced to stay home and recover from their WMSD injuries, that increases the burden on the remaining workforce, and the vicious cycle just keeps repeating itself.
When the construction industry’s workforce is spread thin, the chances that workers will be sidelined with strains and sprains increases. The industry loses millions of dollars every year in lost wages due to these types of injuries, and it will take a dramatic shift in the industry and the implementation of effective ergonomic solutions to bring this problem under control.