Reducing Strain and Sprain Injuries Requires Reinforcement

As with any safety and health program or initiative, to get sustained results there must be frequent reinforcement over time. The "safety program of the month" or a knee jerk reaction to a serious accident, while more common than they should be, rarely lead to sustained results. In fact, they often do more harm than good. When it comes to reducing strain and sprain injuries (also referred to as soft tissue, musculoskeletal, overexertion injuries, etc.) there is no silver bullet either. Even the best written ergonomics procedures and training are not enough. These efforts may provide some reductions, but the improvements are usually short lived. Achieving material and sustained reductions in strain and sprain injuries takes a serious commitment to reinforcement.

For example, let's say in an effort to reduce strain and sprain injuries you just trained all your employees in proper body mechanics. With shift work and vacations, getting everyone through the training was quite a feat. Perhaps you had someone from corporate come in, a doctor from a local clinic or you hired a consultant to do the training. And, the feedback from your employees was overall positive. You feel pretty good about your efforts. Maybe it's time to move onto the next priority? Do not be fooled. If you stop here, the chances your employees will apply what they learned in the training (ie, proper body mechanics) is slim to none.

Reinforcement is the timely, repetitious, and specific reiteration of your expectations and objectives. Said another way – practice makes perfect. Consider the time and effort even the most skilled athletes spend practicing their craft. Your employees are no different. Reinforcement can come in many forms such as coaching, friendly reminders and even formal discipline. To reduce strain and sprain injuries, you must develop a formal reinforcement strategy.

The type and nature of reinforcement may vary from company to company. Only you can choose the approach strategy appropriate for your organization. Key factors in choosing the best approach include the type and nature of your operation, the maturity level of your safety and health programs, the level of employee participation, and your organizations desired level of commitment to reducing strain and sprain injuries. Whichever approach you choose, it will be much easier to implement if you already have a similar process in place. For example, if you already have a job observation program in place where supervisors or employees perform safety inspections in the facility, simply add body mechanics to the list of items evaluated during the inspection.

Another consideration when developing a reinforcement approach is process. Your approach must include a plan, implementation, review of findings and follow-up. For example, if using the job observation program as a reinforcement strategy, first develop a checklist to ensure consistent evaluation of body mechanics. Then determine who will perform the inspections, establish a set frequency (eg, weekly, monthly) and train them how to perform the observations. Next, develop a means to collect, evaluate and analyze the information obtained during the inspections. This will enable you to identify problem areas or trends and allow you to prioritize and focus your future efforts.

Lastly, consider ways to communicate the findings to your employees and management. Add the findings to a newsletter, monthly safety report or post it on a bulletin board. Seeing and hearing about the results of their efforts alone is a form of reinforcement. It may also be useful to have your safety committee or a task force review and evaluate the information collected.

The safety observation program is just one of many reinforcement strategies you can implement to reduce strains and sprains. Other interesting and effective approaches can include using an incentive program, measuring improvement in employee range of motion, and hazard recognition and corrective action management programs just to name a few. Be creative. Your employees can be a great resource. The possibilities are endless. Find one that works for your organization and get the results you are looking to achieve.