Aging workforce and new technologies create a need for ergonomics in construction


LAS VEGAS – Ergonomics in construction injury prevention hasn’t received the attention it needed in the past as the industry faces some of the deadliest incidents, but a workforce aging coupled with new technologies that simplify solutions for better movement make it easier for employers. institute change.

That’s according to presenters at the International Risk Management Institute Inc.’s 42nd Construction Risk Conference in Las Vegas on Monday, who said the rising costs of musculoskeletal and soft tissue injuries, particularly in areas such as construction where the materials are heavy and the work can be repetitive, help to argue for improved ergonomics. Even though the industry tends to focus on safety when it comes to more catastrophic incidents, said Allison Seijo, senior risk control consultant with the construction practice of Travelers Cos. Inc.

“Falls lead to deaths,” Ms Seijo said. “And soft tissue injuries are complicated. They can occur as a result of an acute injury. They can occur from repetitive movements. They can occur over years over months; and they are difficult to diagnose and treat. It prevents workers from working for longer periods. So I think this complicated sense of ergonomic risk, you know, it’s a tough decision to go into ergonomics and say, okay, what’s my problem here and how am I going to solve it? »

Ms Seijo cited data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance which revealed in 2018 and 2019 that the average cost of a muscle strain or sprain is $34,000, split equally between compensation and medical expenses. Travelers published its own data, finding that exertional injuries account for 25% of compensatory claims.

“The financial impacts are significant; soft tissue injuries have a significant impact on the construction industry, as insurance costs increase due to high experience change rates.

You only have to spend time on a construction site to see what is at stake, according to Ms. Seijo.

“It can be tradesmen or tradeswomen on ladders working overhead, carrying materials from one end of the site to the other; the operator outside working on heavy machinery, or even the bricklayers outside brushing concrete,” she said, showing photos of construction workers carrying out tasks at a site .

“You almost expect to see these types of actions performed on a construction site, but the fact is that we have to use modernization to our advantage,” she said. “We are at a turning point in the industry where we need to work smarter, not harder, to help drive an industry that has been so entrenched in the status quo of physical manual labor.”

Michael Gonzales, senior consultant at Travelers, said injuries rooted in incorrect ergonomics stem from posture, frequency, force, which refers to lifting, pushing or pulling, or gripping by pinching, and working time. “We have requirements that exceed capabilities,” he said.

New technologies, offered by a number of companies and affiliated with compensatory insurers, are helping employers focus on movement problems and how to correct them, he said. Technology allows a safety inspector or supervisor to record a moving worker and, after analyzing the video, target body parts at risk of injury. It is then up to the company to provide engineering controls or other mechanisms to correct the problem or eliminate the risk.

The solution can be as simple as providing a shelf to keep materials off the floor and easier to access without leaning on the floor, according to Ms Seijo, who provided numerous photographs illustrating small changes that mean less risk of wounds. Another example was the use of a platform instead of a ladder, which showed a worker reaching too far to work on a ceiling.

Getting employers and employees to buy into the changes involved getting employees to weigh in and be involved in the process, Gonzales said. Another selling point is the return on investment, which occurs over time but can be monitored – changes will eventually lead to fewer injuries, he said.

Ms Seijo added that “sometimes the benefits are intangible”.

“Think of this aging workforce; the last thing you need are good people out of work or retiring early because they have suffered a soft tissue injury,” she said. “In the long term, if we can get workers to work longer and more safely… that will have a significant long-term effect on the construction industry as a whole, especially in certain high-demand trades. of physical labor.


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