Sean Henry knows a thing or two about how to stay safe and comfortable on the job. As an ergonomic analyst and functional capacity evaluation technician, knowing how to avoid physical stress and strain at work is kind of Henry’s thing.
As businesses welcome in the New Year, Henry recently reflected on the various injuries he evaluated in 2015. There weren’t any major trends.
The work-related injuries he saw were about what you would expect – keep reading for tips to avoid those injuries in 2016. For employees doing heavy manual labor, Henry saw patients with lower back pain, over-use injuries from repetitive motions in joints such as the shoulder and worn out knees.
In the spring there’s almost always an uptick in slip-and-fall injuries from rain and melting snow. Wrist fractures, ankle fractures, mechanical injuries to a joint tend to crop up during that time of year. And folks chained to a desk tend to get stiff joints and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Most employees just want to recover and get back to work safely. And that’s where Henry comes in to evaluate whether they can return to the job full-time, with restrictions or if more treatment is needed.
But Henry says there are plenty of ways workers can avoid getting hurt in the first place. Here are his top 10 tips for staying safe and comfortable on the job in 2016:
1) Don’t lift from the back or knees. Instead, Henry says when lifting a box, heavy can of paint, a five-gallon jug – whatever the object – power from the hips in a dead lift position to minimize strain.
2) When picking something up focus on keeping the weight in front and close to your body. This will help you keep better control over the object, Henry says, and avoid unsafe twisting or strain. It’s harder to hold a gallon jug at full arm’s length than it is to carry it close to your core.
3) Make sure you’ve got a good foothold and a solid grip when lifting. If you don’t, Henry says you’re more likely not to lift safely.
4) Balance is key. Keep your center of gravity near your midline with your core activated when picking up an object. That will help you distribute the weight you’re lifting more evenly.
5) Don’t be a hero; lighten the load. When you can, Henry says it’s best to ditch heavier loads and go with less weight and more reps. And don’t be afraid to ask people for help if something is just too heavy.
6) Take breaks. When you are lifting repetitively, try to minimize the time spent tensing your muscles. That means avoid really long sustained lifting periods. Tired muscles will only lead to injury and pain.
7) Be neutral. Seriously, keeping a neutral spine is key to protecting your back. Avoid rounding your back like when you’re touching your toes. Keep up right and support the natural curve of your back when lifting.
8) For those of us strapped to a computer all day, Henry says you’re not immune to work-related aches and pains. The number one tip for office warriors is move frequently and often. Get up and move every 30 minutes to an hour to avoid stiffness and fatigue from sustaining the same position for too long.
9) Sit well. Lower back pain, shoulder pain, those can be caused from hours of poor posture at your desk. One way to improve desk fatigue is to make sure your elbow height is equal to your desk height. That will help keep your upper extremities comfortable and encourage a better sitting position.
10) To avoid back strain at your desk create reaching zones; green, yellow and red. Objects in the green zone should be no farther than 12 inches away and should include your most commonly used items. Things you use often but less frequently should in the yellow zone up to 18 inches away. There really shouldn’t be anything in the red zone. If you don’t use it all that often, move it to a different location off your desk. That will encourage more movement throughout the day if and when you do need it. And that’s a win!