Two largely preventable workplace injuries - back and arm injuries - cost Washington businesses $2.7 billion in worker’s compensation payments from 1989 through 1996, state officials say.
In a report released this week, the Department of Labor and Industries said the injuries, a huge number of which develop gradually due to repetitive strain and other factors, are most common in nursing homes, construction, wood products manufacturing, logging, sawmills, wholesale meat processing and fruit and vegetable packing.
The study found that workers who use their bodies to lift, carry, push or pull heavy objects have the highest risk of shoulder and back injuries. Those who have the highest risk of repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are those who perform repetitive tasks, such as workers in the wholesale meat industry.
The study found that “gradual onset” injuries, such as repetitive strain, accounted for 67 percent of back injury claims during the period and 36 percent of arm claims.
The injuries kept employees off work for 24-1/2 million days, which adds up to the loss of 12,250 employees per year from the work force, the study said.
“This study provides compelling evidence that preventable back and arm injuries hurt people and profits,” said Gary Moore, department director.
Moore said everybody from workers to state regulators must make new efforts at injury prevention through new safety rules and more attention to ergonomics.
The latter protects workers’ bodies from the effects of repetitive strain by adjusting furniture, processes and methods to fit workers.
Barbara Silverstein, L&I;’s research director for safety and health, said workers and their bosses could have a huge impact on the injury rate just by understanding the causes of injuries and taking steps to prevent them.
The findings, which Silverstein said show the magnitude and cost of these injuries, will be used to shape policy decisions on workplace safety.
The study found that repetitive-strain back injuries accounted for more than two-thirds of all back claims, while repetitive strain arm injuries accounted for one-third of all arm claims.
The report said if the Washington data were applied to the nation, back and arm repetitive stress injuries would cost American businesses $23.5 billion a year.