When a tree falls in the woods with no one there to hear it, the question becomes: Does it make a sound? When it comes to public statements, the opposite premise might be: If you publicly declare you will do something, then it will get done.
This is part of the thinking when asking companies to take the MSD (musculoskeletal disorders) Pledge. And it seems to be working. Over 100 organizations across the globe have signed a pledge to reduce workplace MSD injuries by 25% by 2025.
The pledge, which includes an index to measure the goal, is housed in the MSD Solutions Lab, which is part of the National Safety Council. The lab, which was established in 2021 with funding from Amazon, notes that MSDs—which include ergonomics injuries such as tendinitis, back strains, sprains, as well as carpal tunnel syndrome—are the most common workplace injuries.
In 2020 U.S. private-sector workers experienced 247,620 non-fatal MSD injuries severe enough to miss at least one day of work. And the cost is huge due to injuries caused by the following:
- heavy lifting: $13 billion;
- awkward postures: $4.7 billion;
- repetitive motions: $1.6 billion.
The MSD Index evaluates an organization’s performance against the pledge commitment and includes metrics on risk reduction strategies, workplace safety culture and innovation efforts. But what the index doesn’t do, unlike most indexes, is rank companies. Information that comes from the companies is de-identified and counted as aggregate data.
“We are not trying to announce which company is doing better than another toward the goal, but instead we are tracking the entire community’s evolution,” notes Towler. “Every organization will have its own target and metrics.”
Another way the MSD Solutions Lab will interact with companies who sign the pledge is to assist in vetting safety technology. “In my very long safety career, I have not seen this kind of emphasis on human-centered technology like we are seeing now. Our organization will work alongside this emerging technology and share what they are doing. We want to open up the spectrum of what’s possible.”
The goal of decreasing MSD injuries has been something companies have been chasing a while. Part of the difficulty regarding treating these injuries is that they are often difficult to pin down, but they affect a person throughout their career.
“If you look at the lifespan of these issues, an employee might start out with no injuries and years later these injuries start to manifest,” notes Towler. “They might be at the same employer or a different employer. So, this really is an issue of total worker health that all companies must recognize and work toward solving.”
Towler, who spent 16 years at Boeing and created the Boeing Industrial Athlete program (an industry-leading injury prevention program), reflects that the company benefitted by ensuring that its employees had the tools and resources needed to stay healthy at every stage. “Some employees had long careers at Boeing, so keeping them healthy throughout their career benefitted everyone,” notes Towler.
From a larger vantage point, the responsibility that companies now have due to COVID-19 has become a determining factor when candidates choose jobs. “The ability to both retain and attract employees can be helped as companies can publicly share their commitment to health and safety,” Towler asserts, “which can make them an employer of choice.”