Immediately after an emergency, most people want to rally together and help, but it’s important to monitor the musculoskeletal health of your workers. This includes ensuring that workers don’t over-exert themselves by moving, lifting, carrying or pushing/pulling things that are heavier or more awkward than they can safely manage.
It also means that they should take appropriate task breaks. Back and shoulder injuries, and other strains and sprains may build up over time. They can be serious in nature and can severely limit work ability and enjoyment of life.
This applies to both workers, and volunteer workers.
How to reduce musculoskeletal health (strain and sprain) risks at work:
- Know when and for how long your workers carry out hazardous manual tasks such as shovelling, and lifting and carrying work, and what the working conditions are like. Match the work demands to the worker’s abilities.
- Talk to your workers about what the tasks are and how they can be done without hurting themselves or others. Make sure they know how to carry out the work safely.
- Provide the right tools for the job – avoid work at ground level if it can be lifted, and use a work platform to avoid working with the arms held overhead. Use machinery when it is suitable.
- Make sure workers take suitable work breaks:
- short ‘breathers’ while working (putting tools down for a few seconds, taking a stretch) allow hard-working muscles to relax, stretch out, and re-oxygenate. This helps to reduce injury risks and allows work for more sustained periods.
- longer breaks are needed so that workers can rest, take on food and drink to refuel, and to keep cool and avoid overexertion. Make sure there is somewhere suitable for quality work breaks.
- Drink plenty of water - good hydration helps to prevent muscle cramps and injuries. If workers are doing sweaty work for long periods think about providing electrolytes.
- Workers who are stressed and worried may be more tense and prone to injury. Remind them to take some time to relax, breathe and stretch out, and recognise that workers may also be ‘working’ additional hours to get their home lives back in order and to support whanau.
- Pay attention to ground conditions and footwear - slips and trips are a common cause of debilitating strains and sprains.
- Mental fatigue can make it difficult for workers to maintain attention on tasks. They may make mistakes, and be distracted or frustrated. This makes them more vulnerable to strains and sprains.
- Consider sleep patterns and fatigue.