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Technology helps employers sharpen their focus on ergonomics



LAS VEGAS — Ergonomics has generally not received the attention it needs in the construction industry, but that may change.

That’s according to presenters at the International Risk Management Institute Inc. Construction Risk Conference, who said the rising cost of muscle and tissue injuries, especially in an industry where materials are heavy and work can be repetitive, helps make the case for improving ergonomics.

“Soft tissue injuries are complicated,” says Allison Seijo, senior risk control consultant at Travelers Cos. Inc.’s construction practice. “They can happen from an acute injury. They can happen from repetitive motion.

“They can happen over years, over months, and they̵

7;re difficult to diagnose and treat. It keeps workers out of work for longer periods of time.”

Seijo cited data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. that found in 2018 and 2019 that the average cost of a muscle tear or sprain was $34,000, equally divided between compensation and medical costs. Travelers released their own data showing that injuries caused by exertion make up 25% of claims.

“The financial impact is significant,” Seijo said. “Soft tissue injuries are having a significant impact on the construction industry as insurance costs increase due to increased changes in experience.”

One only needs to spend time on a construction site to see the problems, Seijo said.

“It could be the craftsmen or women on ladders working above, workers carrying materials back and forth across the job site, the operator outside working in a heavy machine, or even the masons outside brushing concrete,” she said.

“It’s almost an expectation to see this kind of action being carried out in a workplace, but the fact is we have to use modernization to our advantage,” she said. “We are at a turning point in the industry where we need to work smarter, not harder, to help drive an industry that has been so ingrained with the status quo of physical manual labor.”

Michael Gonzales, a senior account consultant at Travelers, said injuries rooted in improper ergonomics stem from such factors as posture, frequency, force, pushing or pulling, and the duration of the work. “We have requirements that outweigh capacity,” he said.

New technology is helping employers get in on and correct problems with movement, he said.

One technique allows a safety inspector or supervisor to record a worker in motion and, when analyzing the video, target body parts at risk of injury. It is then up to the employer to provide engineering controls or other mechanisms to correct the problem or eliminate the risk.

The solution could be as simple as providing a shelf to keep materials off the floor and easier to access without bending over, Seijo said. Using a platform instead of a ladder to work on a roof is another example.

Gonzales said a selling point for making such ergonomic changes is the return on investment as a result of fewer injuries, he said.

Seijo added that “sometimes the benefits are intangible.”

“Think about this aging workforce. The last thing you need is good people out of work or retiring early because they’ve had a soft tissue injury,” she says. “In the long run, if we can get workers to work longer and safer … it will have a significant long-term effect on the construction industry as a whole, particularly in certain industries that are very physically labor intensive.”


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