Women at Greater Risk for Ergonomic Injury
Female workers are more than twice as likely as their male counterparts to suffer ergonomics-related injuries on the job, particularly when not enough attention has been paid to the design of work, equipment, workstations and environment.
Ronald Porter, a physical therapist and ergonomics expert and director of the Back School of Atlanta, says some female-dominated professions, such as healthcare, require moving heavy loads and adopting awkward working positions.
Women are also more likely than men to be performing work that involves repetitive tasks, working at workstations and using tools that were designed for men.
Porter, who addressed the recent American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Professional Development Conference in Baltimore, noted that women represent 46 percent of the US workforce, but report 63 percent of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that result in lost work time.
Factors that put women at greater risk for MSDs include:
- An aging workforce,
- A decreased level of physical fitness,
- Increasing work load,
- Obesity, and
- Psychological stresses at work and home.
“Being overweight can contribute to back pain by increasing the wear and damage to joints, causing irritation, pain and reduced activity,” says Porter. “This lack of activity can cause further weight gain.”
Porter noted that other factors that put women at higher risk for MSDS include:
- The fact that job sites and equipment are often not designed for women.
- Women are more sensitive to extreme temperatures than men.
- Motor activities may be more difficult for women.
- Women tend to have less job and task rotation.
- They tend to have fewer work breaks if not in management positions.
- Loud noise.
- Lighting issues.
He says avoiding or limiting strenuous work, work requiring balance, lifting of more than 50 pounds, prolonged sitting or standing, temperature extremes and providing adjustable workstations can help women avoid work-related MSDs.
“Many work areas were designed by men for men. Forty-six percent of our workforce is female. The best place to apply ergonomics principles is during design, not after the issue becomes a problem,” says Porter. “It is must cheaper to build it correctly in the first place than to retrofit.”
PPE for women that will protect them from contract stress can also greatly reduce the chances of an ergonomic-related injury. Such PPE includes floor mats for workers who must stand a lot, shoe inserts and anti-vibration gloves.
Education in neutral postures, correct body mechanics and provision of “ergo breaks” can significantly reduce MSD risk factors for women.
“Instructing supervisors and perhaps even employees to recognize early warning signs of MSDs and how to apply correct first aid can be invaluable in the management process,” says Porter. “Developing appropriately modified or restricted duty jobs or tasks can speed recovery and decrease the likelihood of re-injury upon return to work.”