The injuries sustained when lifting, pulling, throwing or twisting are some of the most commonly experienced workers’ compensation claims, with the SC Municipal Insurance Trust counting about 190 sprain and strain claims each year, totaling about $3 million in costs. Strains are small tears to muscles or tendons, while sprains are tears or overstretching of ligaments, often caused by awkward positioning of the body or instability, such as rolling an ankle.
These commonplace injuries can be prevented when employees remain aware of the dangers involved and how to guard against them. For many types of on-the-job injuries, situational awareness is key. It can take many forms: avoiding distractions like cell phones, or watching out for potentially unsafe scenarios. In the case of sprains and strains, there are some common risk factors:
- Applying large amounts of force – pushing, pulling or lifting more than 25 pounds can increase muscle fatigue and increase the likelihood of a sprain.
- Using poor posture – rigid, slumped or slouched postures can create too much force on muscles and joints.
- Repetitive tasks – these can compound other sprain and strain risk factors.
- Lack of training or poor lifting techniques – improper lifting, lifting excessive weight or not seeking assistance for awkward or heavy items can also increase the danger of injury.
Employers should periodically provide training on correct lifting techniques. For example, workers can help reduce the likelihood of an injury by warming up before lifting, planning out the route they will use to carry the load, and testing both their grip and their ability to hold onto the weight. They should lift using their legs, avoiding bending and keeping their back straight. They should hold the weight close to their chest, since extending a heavy object away from their body increases the load on their spine. Employers should also require a team of two employees to lift weights greater than 50 pounds.
Some additional precautions that employers should take include vetting job candidates before hiring them to ensure they will be able to lift the weight ordinarily required in the job. They should also conduct job hazard assessments to determine which job duties may be causing frequent sprains and strains to determine what safety precautions or equipment could help.