The Economics of Ergonomics

Bodily injury claims for tech professionals

It’s not something to be overlooked

Think your technology firm’s employees aren’t likely to get injured on the job? Think again. More than half of all workplace injuries are related to musculoskeletal disorders. MSD injuries are common among those who engage in repetitive motion activities such as as typing on a computer keyboard or working on a manufacturing assembly line.

“It’s easy for technology firms to overlook workplace safety issues,” says Toby Levy, The Hartford technology industry manager. “Just because this is not a traditionally high-hazard industry does not mean that it’s risk free.”
Long days hunched over keyboards, or on the assembly line endlessly snapping in the same part, can lead to cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) and lower back aliments. In fact, nearly 60 percent of employees doing computer work say the have wrist pain. Here are some other common complaints:

  • Muscle fatigue or pain. Working for long periods in the same position or in awkward positions can put stress on hands and wrists and lead to injury.
  • Eye strain. Sitting too close to – or prolonged gazing at – a monitor can reduce eye blinking and may lead to dry or aching eyes.
  • Lower back pain. Using laptops or non adjustable office furniture can cause employees to work at awkward angles, and lead to back stress.

Several trends make CTDs a special concern for technology firms. First, so many employees in the industry use computers. Many of these same people also sit down at the computer at home, to surf the Internet or play games. Second, specialized jobs are increasing every day. This means more people are doing the same thing all day. Finally, people are living longer. “The aging body can be more susceptible to aches, pains and MSDs,” says Levy.

Not only can these disorders take a major toll on the body, they can have a significant impact on your business. Last year, the average medical claim associated with a CTD was over $43,000. And that doesn’t even include the hidden costs for employers of lost productivity when an employee is disabled or the cost of hiring and training a replacement worker.

What’s a tech business to do? Ergonomics, or the process of safely and comfortably relating workers to their work spaces can help. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests: Leaving enough room for range of motion; adjusting desk chairs to individuals; positioning monitors so eye level is at the top of the screen; and finding a pointing device, such as a mouse, stylus or tablet, suited to the individual.

Levy suggests there are many other simple things employers can consider to help protect their workers and their pocketbooks. For example:

  • Stress the importance of good posture at the computer. Levy likens this to the results focused golfers can get. “A good swing only comes with proper foot and hand placement and good balance,” he says.
  • Use smart lifting techniques and tools that can make the job easier.
  • Appoint someone on your staff to take responsibility for safety issues. Have this person research ergonomics best practices, review resources provided by your workers’ compensation insurance company, train employees.

Common sense measures can go a long way to preventing tech industry injuries. “Adjust workstations, take advantage of training, see what other equipment is available,” Levy counsels. “Obviously, you can’t prevent every CTD, but you can take actions that will help prevent problems.

Risk factors that contribute to CTDs Safe behaviors that can limit CTDs
Static posture Good posture
Awkward posture Correct workstation setup
Repetition Occasional rest breaks
Force and/or vibration Task variation
Extreme temperature Proper lifting techniques

For more information on factors to consider in creating an ergonomically friendly work environment, visit http://www.thehartford.com/info2/technology.html.

How to Set Up Ergonomically Correct Workstations

Work-related MSDs such as back injuries and repetitive motion injuries are the most prevalent among programmers, engineers, Web designers and technical writers.

They are, however, preventable — just by making adjustments to their workstations. To the right is a handy diagram that illustrates the proper positioning and components in an employee’s workstation.

Keeping an Eye on Avoiding Eye Strain

For professionals in the technology industry — whether sitting in front of a computer or standing in an assembly line — eye strain can be a major factor in workplace discomfort as well as a drain on employee productivity.

According to specialists in The Hartford’s Loss Control Department, eye strain in the workplace can be caused by several factors, including:

  • inappropriate lighting levels;
  • difficult viewing distances and angles;
  • poor contrast between the foreground and background colors on a computer screen;
  • small print or font sizes;
  • long periods of visual attention; and
  • incorrect height of monitor.

So what can you do to alleviate eye discomfort your employees may experience?

  • Match lighting to job functions.

  More light is required for reading, writing, and fine motor tasks such as small component assembly or computer work.

  • Assess overhead lights.
  1. Use filters to diffuse overhead lights where ambient lighting level is too high.
  2. Comply with the recommended ambient lighting level of 300-500 lux* for computer operations. Provide task lighting for non-computer, clerical operations.*Lighting levels are measured in lux or foot-candles; 1 lux = .0929 foot candles.

 

Seeing things in a good light
Inappropriate levels of light in work spaces are not good for employees – or business. So make sure your employees are always in a good light.

 

Office Situation Recommended Lighting
Ambient lighting for computers: 30-50 foot-candles*
Task lighting for reading or writing: 75 foot-candles*

Source: The Hartford Loss Control Department, 2002

  • Evaluate windows and walls.

   Cover windows with blinds and use matte finishes on walls, floors and furniture, to reduce glare.

  • Adjust computer screens.
  1. Adjust the brightness and contrast according to an individual’s preference, and set a light color for the background on the screen.
  2. Place the monitor parallel with (not directly below) overhead lights.
  3. Angle the monitor away from light sources.
  4. Make sure that task lamps illuminate the document — not the monitor.

Experts also suggest that workers who work on a computer for long periods should look away from the screen for a few seconds about every 20-30 minutes — and blink a few times — to keep eyes from drying out. For more eyestrain prevention tips, check out our loss control tips at The Hartford.
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Just the Stats

  • OSHA estimates that $1 of every $3 paid in workers’ compensation goes toward employees injured by musculoskeletal disorders. In other words, preventing just one worker from developing an MSD can save an employer more than $27,000 in direct costs.
  • According to the American Optometric Association:
    • – Approximately 12 million people visit eye doctors for computer-related problems each year; and
    • – 60-90% of software professionals suffer from visual fatigue at some time.
  • Often work-related musculoskeletal disorders can be prevented by simple and inexpensive changes in the workplace. The President’s Committee’s Job Accommodation Network found:
    • – 31% cost nothing; 50% cost less than $50; 69% cost less than $500. (Source: www.yourohs.com)

Avoid Back Strain with Proper Lifting Techniques

Although computers are getting smaller, lifting them — or other equipment — can still take its toll on even the fittest employee.

For many technology businesses, back injury prevention is a major safety issue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that:

  • over one million workers suffer back injuries each year; and
  • back injuries account for one out of every five workplace injuries and illnesses.

Perhaps even more startling is that back problems have become the second biggest reason for missed work, costing about $30 to $80 billion a year including the cost of lost productivity.*

With exposures like this, it’s wise to advise workers who are responsible for routinely lifting, moving and hauling IT equipment on proper lifting techniques. The best preventative measures for back injuries is employee training are listed in these dos and don’ts.

Do Don’t
Think before lifting. Before lifting something, consider how heavy the object is, where it has to be moved, and whether or not it’s cumbersome. Avoid planning — just to save time.
Lift with the legs. Since leg muscles are stronger than back muscles, it’s a good idea to bend at the knees and lift with the legs — so there’s no undue pressure exerted on the back. Bend at the waist when lifting — or twist at the stomach while turning. Both can cause injury.
Get help. If the load appears to be too heavy, find someone to help with the move, use a dolly or a cart, or break it into smaller loads. Lift anything alone — if you think it’s too heavy to handle.

Not only can back injury prevention help protect your employees, it may also be an excellent investment of your time and resources. Want more helpful tips to share with your employees? The Hartford offers several training tools including a Back Injury Prevention video that addresses many common problems. Contact your local Hartford agent for more details.
*Source: ergoboy.com

Your Opinions Welcome!
To make this newsletter as valuable as possible, we welcome your ideas and suggestions. If you have any feedback on this issue or story ideas for future issues, just e-mail them to Toby Levy, Technology Industry Manager at tlevy@thehartford.com.

The information provided in this document is of a general nature, based on certain assumptions, and cannot be regarded as advice that would be applicable to all businesses. Readers seeking resolution of specific safety issues or business concerns regarding this topic should consult a professional safety consultant. We do not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation contained herein will result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations. We assume no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business locations or business operations are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation.

Riskbytes is brought to you by The Hartford.

To find out more about what The Hartford offers small and midsize technology businesses, visit us at http://www.thehartford.com/info2/technology.html.

105693 (Summer 2004) Printed in USA ©2004 The Hartford, Hartford, CT 06115

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