Holiday Tips: How to Combat Overexertion

Tired employee laying head on desk
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In 2019, as in each of the two years prior, overexertion accounted for more than 31% of all occupational injuries involving days away from work. But what exactly does overexertion mean? What kind of injuries does that include and how can you work more safely?

What is Overexertion?

Many specific injuries can fall under this category, but there are two main types of overexertion events that result in injuries or illnesses: Those from excessive physical effort and those from repetitive motions.

Injuries resulting from physical effort typically come from actions such as lifting, carrying, or pulling and pushing. Lifting especially is an activity that many workers underestimate as a potential danger, or they overestimate their ability to easily and safely carry a heavy load.

Both OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offer their own guidelines for manually handling material, but these can be summarized in a few basic steps:

  • Plan out the path you will take before lifting anything
  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart to maintain a strong base of support
  • Bend from the knees and lift with your legs
  • Hold the object close to your body and balanced, not off to one side
  • Do not twist your body as you walk or turn corners
  • When placing the object, again bend from the knees

These all may seem like obvious tips but with more than 86,700 injuries and illnesses resulting from lifting and lowering in 2019, it is important for all employees to think twice about how they move materials and objects while on the job.

The other common type of overexertion injury happens due to repetitive motions. This can include everything from repeated bending or kneeling to common microtasks such as typing or using a small handheld tool.

tired worker sits and rests

Tendinitis (or tendonitis) and bursitis are the repetitive motion injuries that people are likely most familiar with. The causes, and symptoms, of both injuries are similar, and it can be hard to tell the difference between the two. Carpal tunnel syndrome is another injury that is incredibly common, but one that has longer-lasting effects.

While these types of injuries occur in much lower numbers — only 1.9% of overall injuries and illnesses in 2019 — workers should be aware of ways they can try to avoid getting sidelined because of these common, everyday tasks.

  • Maintain good posture no matter if you typically sit or stand all day
  • Take regular short breaks to rest your body and your eyes
  • Try to minimize stress, as this often results in tensed muscles
  • Make sure you are using tools that require the least amount of applied force
  • If possible, switch between tasks with some regularity 
  • Stretch commonly used muscles, especially the shoulders, wrists and neck
  • Ask for help if you feel yourself getting sore

Remember, it is your employer’s responsibility to ensure the workplace is “free from serious recognized hazards.” Make sure your supervisor is aware of any concerns you may have and work to find a solution that makes sense for both you and the company.

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Don’t Let COVID-19 Create an Injury

Ever since March, when the World Health Organization declared the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus to be a pandemic, workplaces across the United States have adjusted how they do business, both for their employees and for customers.

One of the precautions that has now become commonplace is the implementation of socially distanced workspaces. Of course, working six feet away from other employees is not practical in every role or at all job sites, but even in those situations, distancing is still typically encouraged where possible.

With workers a bit more isolated from each other, and many employees requiring time off work due to COVID-19 symptoms or possible exposure, overexertion has the potential to be even more common now. 

When coworkers are out, the employees still able to work may feel like they need to work harder, sometimes at the risk of their own health. And with distancing protocols in place, many may try to do more heavy lifting — literally or metaphorically — by themselves.

Make sure your employees know that, if they need to step in at any time to assist a coworker, safety protocols must still be adhered to. Masks or other facial coverings should be used when workers can no longer socially distance, and hand washing should be done immediately after any contact is made.

Stay Mentally Alert

woman pours water

During the winter holidays, many people across America typically take some time off work, giving themselves an often much-needed break. But this year, much less travel is being done and reduced workforces mean fewer opportunities for employees to take vacation days. 

It is important that all employees know how to combat mental fatigue in order to stay alert and prevent physical exhaustion. You may not think there is much correlation between the two, but many studies have proven this to be the case.

Here are a few tips for getting your energy back:

Rule out health problems by encouraging all employees to visit a doctor if they are feeling unusually tired

Drink plenty of water both while on the job and after working hours to help increase alertness and concentration 

Stay physically active, by doing anything from walking or yoga to weightlifting, to keep your heart, lungs and muscles in check

Get plenty of sleep every night, and supplement poor sleep with a quick 10-15 minute nap if necessary

Shed those extra pounds to boost your energy and help improve your everyday mood and quality of life

Take a technology break in order to prevent mindless scrolling through social media, which is often less relaxing than we realize

Make Sure Your Workers Are Safe

Overexertion injuries can occur in practically any job, but some of the most affected industries are, perhaps unsurprisingly, construction, manufacturing and warehousing. These industries accounted for 1 out of every 4 occupational injuries involving days away from work and made up 40% of all repetitive motion injuries.

For these job sites in particular, workers need to be aware of the major hazards they might encounter and ways to avoid the most common injuries. However, no matter what industry you work in or what type of employees you oversee, it is crucial that all employees receive full — and effective — training.

Online training can help your workforce get caught up on regulatory training requirements and focus on specific workplace dangers without requiring large numbers of employees to congregate in one area. 

A major benefit of online training is that it can be completed by employees at any location. Whether you have an office employee taking the course on a desktop computer, an oil worker going through training on a tablet while on the rig or your workforce is separated between the office and their homes, online courses make training fully accessible.

As we head into the new year, now is an ideal time to review your current training program and adjust as needed to fit the new normal we are all now experiencing. Contact SafetySkills today to see how we can help you get started.

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