Report: Repetitive Motion Injuries Are Still No. 1 Workplace Injury

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) accounted for 435,180 -- or 33 percent -- of the workplace injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work in 2003.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the information March 30 in its report on the characteristics of lost-worktime injuries and illnesses for the year.

Not only are repetitive motion injuries extremely common, they cause workers to stay away from work longer than injuries that appear to be far graver, such as falls or amputations.

For example, the survey uncovered the following patterns:

  • Among major disabling injuries and illnesses, carpal tunnel syndrome caused the highest median days away from work (32 days) followed by fractures and amputations (30 days).
  • Among the most frequent events or exposures, repetitive motion, such as grasping tools, scanning groceries and typing, resulted in the longest absences from work -- a median of 22 days.
  • Falls to a lower level caused the next longest absences from work, with a median of 15 days.

While MSDs make up the largest single category of lost-worktime injuries and illnesses, the number of MSDs varied greatly among industry sectors.

The service industries reported the most MSDs, accounting for 71 percent of all cases of this type. Within these industries, the health care and social assistance industry sector reported the most cases: 83,100, or 19 percent of all MSD cases.

Health service industries also reported the most cases in 2002, but because of changes in the ways industries are classified, BLS cautioned against comparing 2003 industry data with prior years. The total number of lost-worktime injuries and illnesses declined from 1.4 million in 2002 to 1.3 million in 2003.

OSHA, which developed an ergonomics standard that Congress revoked in 2001, has since that time released voluntary ergonomic guidelines for nursing homes and other sectors with high numbers of reported MSDs. The agency also established a national emphasis program designed to target for inspection of nursing homes with high numbers of MSDs.

Despite the continued high numbers of MSDs overall and in the nursing home industry, in a prepared statement acting assistant secretary of labor for OSHA Jonathan Snare said the data show OSHA's outreach and enforcement policies are succeeding.

"Today's data, along with the 7 percent decline in workplace injuries and illnesses from 2002 to 2003 that BLS reported last December, validates OSHA's policy of targeting outreach and enforcement resources where they will have the most impact," Snare affirmed.

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