Preventing Shoulder Injuries
 July 20, 2011

There are myriad of injury prevention programs focused on avoiding back injuries. They are the most common and costliest work related injuries and include both back and neck injuries. Shoulder injuries also account for a considerable number of work related injuries, and once they occur, the recovery can be long and slow. With workers’ compensation claims, a long recovery means residual disability and a costly claim.

Preventing shoulder injuries should be part of any safety plan, especially in manufacturing.

What is the anatomy of a shoulder?
Our shoulder is comprised of three bones: the clavicle (collarbone), the scapula (shoulder blade), and the humerus (upper arm bone). Additionally there are associated muscles, ligaments and tendons. Shoulders are ball-and-socket joints. It is multi-functional and very mobile. It is the most mobile joint in the body, allowing 230 degrees of motion vertically and it enables us to reach out to either side or across the front of our bodies.

The shoulder must also be stable enough to allow for actions such as lifting, pushing and pulling. The inherent compromise between mobility and stability produces a large number of shoulder problems not faced by other joints such as the hip. If an employee’s job requires reaching, lifting, carrying, bending, and/or twisting, it means they are operating in a non-neutral posture and will be at risk for shoulder injuries.

Shoulder Injury Prevention Practices
If you identify shoulder injury risk factors in your workplace, consider these steps to prevent injuries:

  • Minimize lifting. Provide mechanical assists or aids. Use carts, slings, dollies, and jacks, to raise objects and hold them in place. Put materials as close to the area where they will be used as practical and place materials to be assembled as close to the assembly sites as possible to limit the amount of lifting and carrying by assembly workers.
  • Lighten the load. When lifting cannot be eliminated, or when objects (such as tools) must be held at arm's length, ensure that the items being lifted are as light as possible. For example, a corded electric drill might be lighter than a portable hand drill with a heavy battery inside. When material handling is required and the objects are heavy, lifting as a team can reduce the strain on individual workers.
  • Control motion. "Saves" (when a loads shifts and a worker moves to catch it before it falls) can be very dangerous situations. Minimizing the possibility of shifting or falling loads can help prevent these situations. By securing a load or using the appropriate jack or brace to hold a work piece in place may prevent not only shoulder injuries, but also crushing accidents as well.
  • Improve the grip. Lifting motions require force and shoulder muscles provide much of that force. Lifting is more difficult (and more likely to result in an injury) when there's no easy way to grip an object. For example, boxes can be both heavy and awkward. Pallet jacks can eliminate grip problems and bending issues. And, using lifting aids and assists often address more than one injury exposure.
  • Encourage rest and stretching. The best injury prevention practice for overexertion injuries is rest. Your employees can minimize damage from lifting, overhead work, reaching, and other jobs that put stress on the shoulder joints by taking frequent, short breaks (15-20 seconds) and also gently stretching to relieve tension in shoulder muscles and ligaments.
  • Physical abilities testing (PAT). Having the right person in the right job has many benefits. Understanding the physical requirements of a given job and ensuring workers are physically capable of meeting those requirements will increase productivity and reduce the chance of a serious injury.

Work related injuries are costly to both employers and employees. Keep your operation safe and productive. For more information on preventing shoulder injuries contact the CMTA Group Workers’ Compensation Program at wcgroup@cmta.net.

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