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A high level of physical fitness is often required in construction. Having to meet certain physical demands (e.g., bending, kneeling, lifting, stooping, etc.) for long periods can take a physical toll on the body. It’s why overexertion and repetitive-use injuries tend to occur often in this workforce. These types of injuries usually affect multiple areas of the body—including muscles, joints and bones—which can lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). These conditions are influenced by work environment and work-related tasks. Even psychosocial factors (e.g., workplace stress/anxiety) can heighten a construction employee’s risk of developing a work-related MSD and subsequent injury.

Addressing work-related MSD injuries

MSD injuries account for roughly 30% of the work injury cases that result in days away from work. Data collected from a musculoskeletal disorder study in the construction industry revealed that 34% of construction employees have at least one MSD symptom. These symptoms were reportedly aggravated by tasks performed at construction worksites and, therefore, can be deemed work-related.

Construction firms provide construction site teams with standard safety training along with ergonomic techniques for injury avoidance, yet MSD injuries are still common among this workforce. Because construction site employees are accustomed to having persistent aches and pains, reporting every instance to an employer may not be realistic. Whether the pain is acute or chronic, some employees may use self-treatment and/or over-the-counter remedies such as pain medication for relief. But the relief from pain medication is normally just temporary. With the repetitive nature of construction work, treating the symptoms may only lead to an undisclosed MSD injury becoming worse. Even if treated for an MSD injury, a construction employee may be vulnerable to re-injury. For this reason, employers in this industry must find ways to proactively address MSD injuries.

Managing MSD injuries has proven to be costly for the construction industry and other industries where the risk of MSD injury is high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this injury category is responsible for 30% of total workers’ compensation costs. When employees miss work due to MSD injuries, construction project production delays may occur, which can significantly impact the bottom line.

Common, work-related MSD injuries include:

  • Back injuries;
  • Sprains, strains and tears; and
  • Cumulative trauma injuries (e.g., tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome).
MSD injury prevention methods

Construction firms can employ certain rehabilitation services to help employees with MSD injuries fully recover post-injury and regain normal muscle strength or range of motion. But when construction executives implement long-term, preventive measures, their businesses stand a better chance of helping their construction teams avoid MSD injuries altogether. Injury prevention measures may include ergonomics and onsite therapy services conducted by physical therapists or athletic trainers. Examples of services include ergonomic and functional assessments, education, exercise and manual intervention. The scope of these preventive services aligns strategically with a construction firm’s objectives to:

  • Decrease work-related musculoskeletal disorders;
  • Reduce associated injury costs;
  • Increase work productivity;
  • Lower absenteeism; and
  • Improve presenteeism at work.

When construction firms provide onsite training and preventive services, physical therapists or athletic trainers can assess the risks and demands associated with a construction site, along with ensuring employees are fit to do their specific job. Assessing the environment and employees allows these specialists to make more insightful recommendations about ergonomic modifications that can help reduce injuries.

Construction business leaders can also leverage these insights to support their hiring practices. By having a better understanding of the work environment and associated risks, therapists and trainers can help business leaders establish reasonable benchmarks for testing job candidates’ fitness to perform specific job requirements (i.e., post-offer/pre-employment testing). By evaluating a candidate’s fitness to meet certain work demands, any functional or physical limitations may be identified before business leaders make hiring decisions. A similar process can be applied when determining the medical fitness of employees returning to work following injury—providing a valuable tool in the effort to avoid re-injury.

Another preventive measure is periodic health screenings. This includes routine checkups for body mass index, blood glucose (sugar), blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Routine health screenings enable construction employees to stay abreast of their current health status and conditions that can place them at greater risk of suffering an on-the-job injury. Collectively, these preventive measures can pay huge dividends in terms of injury avoidance, OSHA recordables and overall workers’ compensation costs.

Seeking workforce preventive health expertise

Partnering with physical therapists, athletic trainers and other trained occupational health professionals who can offer workforce preventive health services onsite offers construction firms the best chance of implementing a successful injury prevention program that mitigates the risks associated with work-related MSD injuries. From conducting targeted intervention that aims to increase physical activity to offering guidance on how to reacclimate an employee to normal duties without risking re-injury, this multidisciplinary team of medical professionals can help construction firms improve the overall physical fitness and performance of their employees. And for an industry noted for labor-intensive work and high injury risks, applying these preventive measures can help construction executives gain better control of workers’ compensation costs associated with this unyielding injury cycle.


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