PLANT

Tough economic conditions lead to injury


Employers tend to focus on injuries resulting from posture and repetition while overlooking psychosocial stressors.

Photo: Istockphoto

As production cutbacks, excess inventories and increasingly unstable supply chains aren’t worrying enough, plant managers can add the increased potential for physical and psychosocial worker injury to their list of recession woes.

According to research from the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) and Shepell-fgi, a workplace health and safety solution provider, the current economic downturn significantly increases the potential for workplace stress and repetitive strain injuries (RSIs).

“During challenging economic conditions many companies start operating in crisis mode. Training gets cut and hiring is also frozen, so people find themselves doing more, unfamiliar work with little support,” explains Ivan Szlapetis, ergonomics specialist at the IAPA. “And they don’t feel comfortable complaining because they think the complainers are going to be the next ones out the door. So people work through jobs that are causing them a significant amount of discomfort.”

RSIs, also known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), are a group of painful conditions of the muscles, tendons and nerves such as carpel tunnel syndrome or tendonitis. In Ontario they account for 40% of all lost-time claims. Employers tend to focus on physical hazards such as posture, repetition, force and vibrations, but there’s another crucial element that’s often overlooked—psychosocial stressors. Worrying about being laid off and overworking also inhibits productivity and affects physical wellbeing.

“Examples of psychosocial risk factors include stress from excessive work demands, lack of support from supervisors and co-workers, lack of control at work, too much or too little communication and feelings of being underappreciated,” says Szlapetis.

Employers should not underestimate the damage this type of stress is capable of causing. Psychosocial issues impact a company’s bottom line in the short-term in many ways, not the least of which is through employee assistance programs (EAPs).

According to a report from Toronto-based Shepell-fgi, called Financial Distress Impacts Health and Productivity, accesses for financial counseling and consultation are rising at twice the rate of all other EAP services. In the second half of 2008, accessing financial advice was 13% higher than in the second half of 2007.