Preventing Soft Tissue Injuries

Soft Tissue Injuries and the Workplace: What You Need to Know
Soft tissue injuries occur in the muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, discs, joints, blood vessels and nerves. Just as we can understand the conditions and exposures that damage and accelerate wear on automobile tires, there are specific conditions and exposures that cause soft-tissue injuries.
Organizations that care about safety and worker wellbeing need to help their workforce build individual and team capabilities by teaching them how to recognize and control the exposures that can lead to soft tissue injuries. When this training is done in a way that engages the employee and helps them challenge their beliefs, it results in an increase in the use of body mechanics that protects the employee from harm. Educating the workforce is a crucial element of any comprehensive industrial ergonomics program.
Part of this education is understanding the 10 ergonomic risk factors that can lead to exposure. They are:
  • Weight
  • Awkward postures
  • Accelerated movement speed
  • Static loading
  • Repetitive motion
  • Bulkiness
  • Duration of task
  • Vibration
  • Temperature
  • Contact stress
Other issues in the workplace also affect the potential for exposure. They include alignment during movement, leverage, correct biomechanics, and existing physical capacity. One basic rule to remember is that injury occurs when load exceeds capacity.

Why is this important?

Besides maintaining the well-being of all workers, preventing exposure related to soft tissue injuries is important because these injuries represent the number two reason Americans become permanently disabled.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Department of Labor in November 2018, sprains, strains and tears represent the number one cause of non-fatal workplace injuries.
Companies are also affected. Up to 62 percent of most U.S. company’s Days Away, Restricted or Transferred (DART) injuries are related to soft tissue at a cost of $54 billion per year.

What is leadership’s role?

Understanding how soft tissue injuries occur can help transform, not just the company, but will directly impact the community and greater region where it thrives. Creating a culture where employees believe that their leadership cares about their safety and well-being is a crucial step.
The supervisor has a vital role in the control of exposures that lead to soft tissue injuries. Ideally, a supervisor is on the floor, watching, observing and interacting with team members. In this role they need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills and confidence to recognize and reinforce the protective behaviors their workers should be performing to reduce the load factors. They should also engage workers in a meaningful conversation to identify opportunities to apply other controls to reduce load or build capacity.

What are the interventions?

If the most common cause of soft tissue injuries is load exceeding the bearing capacity of the body part, the two interventions needed are to reduce the load and to increase the worker’s capacity.
Load reducing strategies can involve the following:
  • Increasing the number of people assigned to a lift.
  • Relying on mechanical assets to aid in the movement.
  • Reducing the item to a smaller size.
  • Employing correct biomechanics.
  • Strengthening engineering controls.
  • Making use of administrative controls such as Job Rotation and Work Pace.
Human capacity is increased three ways:
The first involves a worker evaluation of physical capacity and discomfort level. The second is work hardening, which involves resistance training.
The third way calls for warm-ups before and during breaks at work. Workers are encouraged to work their statically worked body part with 2-3 minutes of joint-specific rhythmic therapeutic exercises. Regularly 5-15 second micros breaks are also encouraged when workers begin to feel distress in the target body part.

DEKRA OSR's Soft Tissue Injury Prevention Experts

Bruce Madsen, a nearly 40-year veteran in workplace safety, is Vice President of Industrial Ergonomics for DEKRA OSR. In this new role, Madsen helps DEKRA OSR implement solutions for addressing exposures contributing to soft tissue injuries. Madsen has been consulting in this space for 38 years and was the founder of Sports Therapy Associates, an injury prevention, risk reduction, peak performance, and safety ROI consulting firm in southern Oregon.