How to Reduce Shoulder Injuries at Your Workplace

Ryan Tiernan Ryan Tiernan 11 April, 2016

Are shoulder injuries a problem at your workplace?

I have visited many workplaces where shoulder injuries are a problem – A BIG PROBLEM. One workplace in particular was having on average 5 workers a year receiving shoulder surgery. Shoulder surgery is particularly costly for a business as the rehab is long and slow. Workers are typically unable to drive for extended periods meaning lots of paid days off work.

Turning the ‘shoulder injury’ problem around in this workplace was relatively simple. So simple that you could easily achieve the same results in your workplace.

Step 1: Find the tasks in your workplace where workers reach over shoulder height.

This may be sustained over shoulder reaching, repetitively reaching over shoulder or reaching over shoulder height rarely but with a heavy load or high force.

We know from research (and intuitively) that workers performing over shoulder height work are more likely to make a work related shoulder injury claim. Having a physiotherapist assess the manual risks for your tasks and identify high risk activity for shoulder injury is the first and most important step for reducing them at your workplace.

Step 2: Risk manage the tasks you found in step 1:

I’m sure I don’t need to school anyone in the hierarchy of controls. Eliminate over shoulder reaching and you will go a long way to reducing shoulder injuries in your workplace.

In this particular workplace we worked with suppliers to reduce the height of carton stacks, introduced pallet raisers, trained workers in how to raise and lower the heights of their benches, and lowered the heights of some storage units.

Step 3: Find and treat people with a sore shoulder, not an injured one.

Many workers who have an acute shoulder ‘incident’ at work are likely to have experienced pain in that shoulder in the month preceding the incident.   A great example of this is a worker with shoulder impingement. They may first notice pain when lying on the affecting shoulder at night or a ‘pinch’ feeling in the shoulder with some movements.

Encouraging early reporting of pain and symptoms before injury and having that worker assessed and treated proactively by the onsite physiotherapist will reduce the risk of the impinged rotator cuff tendon tearing under load. The cost savings of this approach are astronomical.

Step 4: Care

If you are doing step one to three you should have this step covered.

The reality is that workers who feel less supported at work by their supervisors and management are more likely to make a work related shoulder injury claim.

There is tremendous engagement value in listening to your workers, acting to reduce the manual task risks for injury, encouraging early reporting of pain and symptoms and having the proactive services in place to treat these symptoms before more serious injury occurs.   It could save your business thousands in injury costs.

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