Improved Safe Lifting Training Techniques [+ examples]

April 29, 2021

What are musculoskeletal disorders and why should I care about them?

Musculoskeletal disorders or commonly referred to as MSD's or MSK's injuries are the single largest category of workplace injuries and account for almost 30% of all workers compensation claims. The average MSD injury hovers around $15,000 USD for medical expenses but indirect costs such as rehiring, retraining, loss time, and others can be up to 3-5X the cost of the direct costs which brings the total cost to around $45,000-75,000 USD over the lifespan of a single injury. To make matters worst, employees that have had soft tissue injuries, like a back injury, are 25% likely to have another injury within the next year according to an NIH study. Given the frequency and high costs of addressing MSD related injuries, one would assume there would be a plethora of solutions to solve the ergonomic epidemic. However, in dozens of companies we've interviewed the resources dedicated to addressing MSD's are lacking in many areas. Let's take a look at a few solutions that currently exists and the issues that face them.

Current Solutions & Their Issues

1. Do nothing

Not addressing the impact workplaces have on MSD's are common

Unfortunately, this is the most common approach as many companies are unaware of the risks their workplace presents to their employees. Some reasons might be because companies are in a low risk industry like clerical work or software development. Or they have a very few number of employees so the likelihood of them experiencing a workplace injury is very low. However, according to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world and is one of the most common reasons people miss work with over 50% of Americans experiencing back pain every year. The impact it has on even low risk industries, like software developers who work in sedentary lifestyles, can be far reaching when a software developer making over $120,000 salary needs to take off 3-5 days a year to deal with pain which equates to losing $2,307/employee/year.

2. Verbal safety training from supervisors or "Check-list" training

Majority of trainings are more compliance driven than efficacy hence the term "check-list" training

During the new hire orientation, supervisors will have a check list of training items employees must past prior to starting their job function. Safe lifting may be a part of that check list. A supervisor will instruct a room of 10-20 new hires on how to properly lift. Issues arise if the supervisor has little to no safe lifting training. This often results in a case of the "blind leading the blind" where supervisors are informing employees improper or irrelevant training information. Train the trainer models have sprouted up in an attempt to solve this issue where one ergonomist will coach a supervisor who will then in turn coach another supervisor who will finally coach employees. The issue this creates is a game of telephone where information and quality of the content delivered is highly subjective to the supervisor administering the training. The best solution is finding a way to scale objective training so all employees receive the same quality which Vigilant aims to do as described below.

3. Hire an athletic training or ergonomist for training & coaching

Ergonomic and Athletic Trainer coaching is one of the more effective training methods but can be costly

In a perfect world, where budgets are not a constraint, this is the ideal method of preventative care. One on one coaching will yield the highest knowledge retention and allow employees to practice in live situations where they will encounter opportunities to lift incorrectly and coaches can intervene. However, the downside of this method is it heavily relies on the coach to be on the floor at all times working with all the employees which causes scaling issues if a company needs to train hundreds and thousands of employees.

4. Learning Management Software

While e-learning can be effective means of knowledge transfer, rarely does safe lifting translate well with a pure e-learning program without hands on practice

There are plenty of learning modules around basic safe lifting principals such as keeping your back straight and bending at the hips. These lessons are often taught as part of the new hire on-boarding process which may, at most, be revisited  once a year. The fatal flaw in having safe lifting training delivered via learning management software or powerpoint trainings is that it essentially is a form of "check-list" training which has very low retention of knowledge. An analogy we like to use here at VIT is how would you go about training a team to play an America football match? Just like how it would be unreasonable to expect a team to learn how to perfectly tackle after watching one tackling 101 video, it would be unreasonable to expect employees to know how to lift safely after watching a safe lifting 101 video. Many times when we train employees on safe lifting behaviors such as keeping your back straight and around 30-45 degrees forward flexion as they bend down, they very rarely know what that intuitively feels like in their body without hands on coaching.

5. Workplace redesigns & Engineering Controls

Workplace ergonomic redesigns are effective in improving productivity and safety but can be one of the most costly projects to take on

Combined with having a one on one coach, this solution is one of the best methods of driving down ergonomic issues in the workplace as ergonomist and production engineers will systematically identify hazard points such as working with a heavy load or high repetition of motion and work to eliminate these issues in the supply chain. They may also work alongside safety engineers to perform Job Safety Analysis or Job Hazard Analysis (JSA/JHA) as outlined in our other blog. Examples of these include

  • raising table heights to eliminate needing to work on the ground level for employees
  • limits on weights (i.e. limit 50 pounds or requiring two person lifts for certain objects)

However, the limitations of workplace redesigns are that they are one of the most costly options as it may take a multi-million dollar investment to modify a pre-existing logistic center and these larger workplace redesigns may only take place once every few years. During those years in between redesigns, employees are still at risk and require attention. Other tools and risk assessments maybe used such as the NIOSH lifting equation or Snook's tables.

A Modern Approach to Reducing MSD's

While there is never a catch-all solution, we believe in creating a scalable and cost effective solution that gives employees practical hands on training to learn lasting safe behaviors.

1. Iterative and Micro-Learning at Work

Vigilant (VIT)'s daily safe lifting technique tips

Utilizing Vigilant's mobile and web based safety platform, employees can receive weekly training tips on how to lift safely that uses our safety AI to deliver training around the most at risk behaviors an employee experiences. These 1-5 minute lesson plans walk employees on how the body works, train their body to intuitively know how to lift and work safely, and provide stretching routines that can help relax and soothe their muscles that will naturally be tight after a full-day's work. Vigilant will provide a tablet kiosk system or company issued phones for employees to complete their weekly training. The app introduces employees to a gamification system that rewards them by completing lessons and surveys which in turn issues them points that they can then redeem through their company's safety initiative program. If your company doesn't have one in place, Vigilant can set up a reward exchange system such as issuing badges and other merits for points earned through the app.

2. Vigilant's Wearable System

After employees have been on-boarded onto the mobile app, they can receive an Arc wearable device manufactured and designed by Vigilant that tracks unsafe body postures and provides immediate haptic feedback if an at-risk behavior is detected. Coupled with our app, employees can receive the benefit of having a live one on one coach that is objective and reinforce knowledge obtained through the app. At the end of the day, employees sign out of the wearable through the app and data is uploaded for the employee to view how they did over the course of the day and provide feedback to management.

3. Taking the knowledge home

Health and safety is a 24/7 occurrence and does not end at the end of a workday. Employees can opted into the personal app where they can continue learning and completing different exercises and trainings at home. The Arc wearable issued remains in the workplace however, that doesn't stop employees completing exercises at home where they can continue to earn points and rewards.

4. Understand holistic risks in the workplace

Vigilant's (VIT) Safety Management Platform for a consolidated EHS experience

Supervisors such as Safety, Operations, and HR managers can log into Vigilant's web based safety platform and view their company's risk portfolio that includes other elements such as incident reporting, safety observations, and more to provide a holistic view of workplace safety.

5. Scalable and cost effective solution

Using Vigilant's system can reduce days away from work by 33%, reduce worker's compensation, save hours worth of training and auditing time, and provide an engaging way for your employees to learn intuitively how their body works and how to stay safe.

If you'd like to learn more about how Vigilant's solution can help your company, please book a time below and a representative will be in touch with you shortly.

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