More than half of American adults face “unpleasant and potentially hazardous” working conditions. Almost three-quarters spend at least one-fourth of their work time in “intense or repetitive physical labor.”
These new statistics present tremendous opportunities for employers to get a leg up on their competitors and attract the very best talent. Taking some simple steps to ensure workers are physically comfortable will help decrease workers’ compensation claims, increase productivity and improve the bottom line.
More than 3,000 people participated in the American Working Conditions Survey in 2015. The RAND Corporation, Harvard Medical School and UCLA teamed up and developed a report showing perceptions of working conditions.
Here are some of the findings:
“Overall, these patterns indicate that an overwhelming fraction of Americans engage in intense physical exertion on the job — 67 percent of men and 54 percent of women report at least one of the three intense physical demand measures (moving heavy loads or people, tiring or painful positions, and prolonged standing),” the report said.
More than half the women surveyed and more than one-third of the men said their jobs involve sitting all or most of the time. While standing continuously can cause pain, continuous sitting can also be harmful. In fact, research equates 8 hours of sitting with smoking an entire pack of cigarettes.
In addition to uncomfortable postures and actions, other elements of the workplace were also cited as uncomfortable by a majority of workers. Among them were vibrations from hand tools or machinery, loud noise, extreme temperatures, and exposure to smoke, fumes, powder, dust, vapors, chemical products or infectious materials.
Physical exposure was among the key unpleasant conditions with which workers are dissatisfied in their jobs. While that fact alone may not cause employees to leave, it surely affects their output if they are in pain. Also, the authors point out that the percentage of people who are out of the workforce and not seeking work has remained steady since the Great Recession. They surmise that some may be avoiding the workforce because of the unpleasant conditions.
“The findings presented here suggest that there is ample scope for modifying work environments to keep workers healthier, happier, and more productive,” the authors said.
What to Do
Employees need the proper tools and equipment to do their jobs without pain. However, the biggest obstacle to pain-free work is lack of training.
While many employers have invested thousands or millions of dollars in ergonomically-correct chairs, desks, keyboards and the like, few have taken the time to ensure their workers actually know how to get the most benefit from them.
If you’ve purchased the best ergonomic chair on the market, ask a company representative to show you and others how to adjust it. Once they understand how to adjust a chair, workers should be shown the proper height and how to sit it in correctly — feet on the floor, knees slightly below the hips, etc.
Additionally, employees need to know how to move their bodies correctly with the least amount of painful impact. A waste hauler, for example, may experience a variety of musculoskeletal aches and pains simply because he is not getting in and out of his truck properly. Likewise, workers who lift seemingly light-weight boxes may experience back and/or knee pain because they are not bending in the proper position.
Ideally, a physical therapist or other ergonomics expert should evaluate workers to see how they do their jobs and determine whether and how they might do them differently. In addition to the way the employee performs his job, some of his tasks or his workstation might need to be modified to prevent physical problems.
Safety training is key for any employee in any company and should be done on a routine basis. Hand-in-hand with that should be ergonomics training. Stretching programs may be helpful for workers who are in awkward positions for any length of time, and those workers should be given occasional short breaks. Workers who sit or stand for extended periods of time should be allowed and encouraged to work in a combination of sitting and standing, which research has shown is most optimal.
The fact that a majority of workers are experiencing some sort of pain and discomfort at work on a daily basis should not be ignored. Eventually, their unpleasantness could result in workers’ compensation claims, or them leaving for other jobs. Employers and payers can take steps to ensure their workers avoid pain, and at little expense.
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