Musculoskeletal health is likely the low hanging fruit your safety team can use to drive better health and safety performance.
In last week’s post, I reminded you that:
“Healthcare ate up almost 20% of United States GDP in 2016 and is steadily rising. That’s an astounding figure.
According to ACOEM, “Rising healthcare costs have resulted in lower wages, have led employers to reduce the health insurance benefits they offer to their workers, and have been difficult to control, putting periodic pressure on employer profits. They have also been the foremost contributor to national budget deficits.”
In other words, our current model of healthcare is bad for people, business, and the nation as a whole.”
Though the solution to the healthcare problem is complex and far reaching, I believe as OHS professionals we are in a perfect position to make an impact.
The most obvious opportunity confronting you just might be musculoskeletal health.
Because musculoskeletal injuries are the most common, they are the most costly, and at the same time they could be the most preventable.
To make a significant impact on the musculoskeletal health of your organization, you’ll need a proven and established framework to draw from. I would submit for your consideration that a “Total Musculoskeletal Health” program could be a perfect fit for you.
A “Total” Approach to Musculoskeletal Health
The proactive and comprehensive approach we recommend for musculoskeletal health has been validated by an increasing amount of research done over the last two decades. In fact, the Total Worker Health initiative from NIOSH validates a “total” approach to worker safety and well-being.
Here is a quote that sums up the total worker health view:
“Today, emerging evidence recognizes that both work-related factors and health factors beyond the workplace jointly contribute to many health and safety problems that confront today’s workers and their families. Traditionally, workplace health and safety programs have been compartmentalized. Health protection programs have focused squarely on safety, reducing worker exposures to risk factors arising in the work environment itself. And most workplace health promotion programs have focused exclusively on lifestyle factors off-the-job that place workers at risk. A growing body of science supports the effectiveness of combining these efforts through workplace interventions that integrate health protection and health promotion programs.”
This is exactly what we’ve been saying for decades. In fact, it’s where our name comes from.
Ergonomics (Protect): Protect musculoskeletal health through engineering and administrative controls that ensure worksite design fits within the capabilities and limitations of the human body.
Plus (Promote): Promote musculoskeletal health through regular interaction with a preventive healthcare provider to ensure proper work practices and self-care.
By implementing a proactive ergonomics improvement process with a proactive, upstream model of healthcare, you are implementing a total solution that has the greatest chance at providing the most value to your organization and its people.
You are protecting and promoting the musculoskeletal health of your workforce, who use their musculoskeletal system day in and day out to generate work for you.
This is the sustainable and responsible way to manage musculoskeletal injuries — by preventing them.
Evidence Supporting the “Total” Approach to Work and Health
The “total” approach is validated by an increasing amount of research into the relationship between work and health.
This research compendium includes three foundational studies on the relationship between work and health.
- Steps to a Healthier Workforce: Integrating Occupational Health and Safety and Worksite Health Promotion: State of the Science.
- Examining the Value of Integrating Occupational Health and Safety and Health Promotion Programs in the Workplace.
- Economics of Integrating Injury and Illness Prevention and Health Promotion Programs.
Together, these three papers establish a scientific rationale for integrating health promotion and health protection program to prevent injuries and advance health and well-being.
Economic factors are a primary driver in the interest and application of integrated health protection and health promotion strategies in the workplace. There is simply an excellent business case to drive a total musculoskeletal health program for your organization (or risk being left behind).
The overall health of workers is influenced by factors both inside and outside the workplace: stress at work and home; unhealthful diet and limited exercise; smoking; chronic conditions such as hypertension, asthma, and diabetes, to name a few. The effects of these various factors cannot be artificially divided between “at work” and “non-work.” Just as workplace conditions can affect health and well-being at home and in the community, exposures and activities outside of working hours can substantially determine health, productivity, and well-being during work.
It should be no surprise to us that there is a relationship between work and health. We intuitively know that we’re using the same mind, body, and spirit at work and at home. What we do at work — and at home — inevitably has an impact on the other.
Hierarchy of Controls – Total Coverage
Comprehensively implementing control measures that target musculoskeletal disorder risk factors is the most effective way to achieve total musculoskeletal health. Providing total coverage is the only way to sustain risk reduction and ensure you’re leaving nothing to chance.
Following is the graphic of the hierarchy of controls applied to the NIOSH Total Worker Health approach:
Implementing control measures through the full range of the hierarchy of controls is what we’ve been advocating for years. The following graphic is the hierarchy of controls applied to the ErgoPlus System approach.
By protecting musculoskeletal health through the art and science of ergonomics and promoting musculoskeletal health through preventive healthcare, a full solution is delivered along the full range of controls.
Total Musculoskeletal Health Program Elements
In the Essential Elements for Advancing Worker Safety, Health, and Well-Being paper, NIOSH provides five elements for successfully implementing a total approach. Following is an adaptation focusing on musculoskeletal health.
Element 1 – Leadership Commitment
Like any initiative, total musculoskeletal health must be effectively managed. Commitment to integrated health protection and health promotion at all levels of the organization greatly increases the effectiveness of your efforts. This includes mid-level supervisors and managers who are the direct link between upper management and workers. Their commitment (and therefore enthusiasm) greatly influences how the program is perceived and executed.
Element 2 – Workplace Design
Protect musculoskeletal health through engineering and administrative controls that ensure worksite design fits within the capabilities and limitations of the human body. Implementing a proactive ergonomics process that controls risk before an injury occurs is a fundamental concept in the total musculoskeletal health approach.
Element 3 – Engage Employees
Promote musculoskeletal health through regular interaction with a preventive healthcare provider to ensure proper work practices and self-care. Preventive healthcare providers, or what we call injury prevention specialists, are capable of implementing a broad range of health promotion services such as early intervention, self-care education, preventive exercises, workplace athlete training, and general wellness education.
Element 4 – Employee Advocacy
A preventive healthcare provider serving as an employee advocate may be one of the most important roles they have in the occupational setting. We often find that as our injury prevention specialists gain the trust of workers, they can serve as a helpful liaison between employees and management. This adds a tremendous value to the health and safety process as well as the culture of the facility in general.
Element 5 – Integrated People, Systems, and Technology
The theme of integration in a total approach to musculoskeletal health should translate to people, systems, and technology. Because musculoskeletal injuries are so common and costly, the necessary resources need to be deployed and all working in unison to reduce risk and advance the well-being of workers.
This is the second post in our series on total musculoskeletal health. Stay tuned … next week I’ll be covering how to protect musculoskeletal health through a proactive ergonomics process.