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Practical Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders Highlighted in NIOSH Workplace Primer

NIOSH Update:

CDC Press Release: Monday, May 5, 1997

Practical approaches for protecting workers from job-related musculoskeletal disorders are highlighted in a new document from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Elements of Ergonomics Programs: A Primer Based on Workplace Evaluations of Musculoskeletal Disorders outlines approaches that are commonly used for identifying, correcting, and preventing work-related musculoskeletal problems. Through actual examples from two decades of NIOSH research and assistance, it also illustrates how those techniques can be tailored successfully for specific types of workplaces.

“Work-related musculoskeletal disorders impose a heavy toll on workers, employers, and the U.S. economy in general,” said CDC’s director David Satcher, M.D., PhD. “The NIOSH primer is a unique resource for anyone who seeks information about practical and cost-effective ways to prevent these injuries and illnesses.”

Musculoskeletal disorders are common and costly conditions that occur in virtually every category of business. Musculoskeletal disorders of the upper extremities affecting the muscles, nerves, tendons, and other soft tissues of the neck, shoulder, elbow, hand, wrist, and fingers account annually for more than $2.1 billion in workers’ compensation costs, while low-back disorders impose about $11 billion on the workers’ compensation system each year.

The primer describes seven basic steps for controlling work-related musculoskeletal disorders — determining if musculoskeletal problems exist in a workplace, developing roles for both managers and workers in an ergonomics program, recognizing and filling training needs, gathering and analyzing data to define the scope and characteristics of ergonomics concerns, developing control solutions, establishing health care management, and creating a proactive ergonomics program. Brief summaries of past NIOSH studies show ways in which various aspects of these steps have been put into practice in different work settings.

The primer also features a “toolbox” section that compiles checklists, surveys, illustrations, directories, lists of publications, and other information useful for adapting and applying the basic elements of a musculoskeletal protection program.

“By distilling shelves of information into one easy-to-use reference, the NIOSH primer offers a valuable tool for protecting the health and productivity of workers and saving substantial costs for businesses,” said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H.

“From experience, we know that a great demand exists for practical information on protecting workers from musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses,” added Rosenstock. “The primer incorporates approaches that have been used successfully in many types of businesses, large and small.”

NIOSH was created under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and became part of CDC in 1973. CDC, the nation’s prevention agency, is responsible for translating scientific research into effective public health programs. NIOSH is the only federal institute mandated to conduct workplace safety and health research.

Since the 1970s, NIOSH studies have led to significant advances in preventing musculoskeletal disorders in many types of workplaces, including offices, manufacturing facilities, meatpacking plants, and warehouses. NIOSH also has taken a leading role in disseminating practical information about preventing such disorders by publishing its research findings and responding to employer and worker requests for assistance.

With the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the U.S. Department of Labor, NIOSH in January 1997 sponsored a national conference that convened representatives of business, labor, government, and academia to share information about effective preventive measures. NIOSH will publish the proceedings of that conference later this year, and also will issue a major reference publication about the current scientific literature on work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

Copies of Elements of Ergonomics Programs: A Primer Based on Workplace Evaluations of Musculoskeletal Disorders (NIOSH Publication No. 97-117) are available by calling the toll-free NIOSH information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674). Further information about preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders, including summaries and copies of NIOSH studies referenced in the primer, also can be obtained by calling the toll-free number or visiting the NIOSH home page on the World Wide Web,