Could Simple Ergonomic Fixes Revolutionize North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Policy?

December 1, 2009, by Michael A. DeMayo

North Carolina workers’ compensation policy wonks generally spend the lion’s share of their time doing things like analyzing insurance tables, parsing changes to state regulations, and tracking growth trends in state-specific industries. However, abundant research suggests that policymakers might want to focus more attention on simple workstation ergonomics.

Consider that a British research company (The Work Foundation) recently found that 100 million Europeans endure serious musculoskeletal problems every year, and that these problems eat up around two percent of the entire EU GDP — a staggering $400 billion. There’s no reason to doubt that work-related musculoskeletal injuries enact a similarly devastating toll on workers here in the United States and in North Carolina.

To that end, it seems that fixing whatever is causing these musculoskeletal problems should be a top priority for our policymakers. The question is: how? One theory is that many — if not the majority — of North Carolina workers’ compensation cases stem from chronic damage caused by overuse of certain muscle groups and poor ergonomics. For instance, a stenographer who spends ten hours a day typing up court transcripts can seriously hurt himself if he doesn’t employ excellent technique, take frequent breaks, and use well-designed equipment.

Repetitive stress injuries and other chronic musculoskeletal problems can occur in practically any industry — they are not specific to traditional office work. A painter, for instance, can develop adhesions in her shoulder from doing repetitive brush stroking day in and day out. A truck driver can develop sciatica and lower back strains from sitting in a cab for eight to ten hours a day. Even professional athletes can get quite hurt from doing repetitive actions, even actions not normally associated with acute dangers. Indeed, any job that requires that you bend, lift, type, walk, stand, sit, or talk for extended periods without appropriate rest and ergonomic support can create the conditions for injury.

What’s baffling is that simple and cheap ergonomic solutions to many chronic overuse problems abound. The installation of more ergonomic workstations across North Carolina, for instance, might be very useful at cutting down the rate of typing injuries. The installation of lumbar supports in truck cabs should be useful at reducing sciatica and lower back pain and so forth.

To summarize, North Carolina workers’ compensation policymakers should analyze simple, cost effective, and easily instituted ergonomic fixes post haste. This should not only lead to happier and healthier workers but also to a reduced number of claims, and thus to many other indirect benefits to employers and to the state as a whole.

More Web Resources:

The Work Foundation



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