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Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention: Protect Yourself from on-the-job Injuries (Part I)

EMS and fire personnel take exceptional care of their equipment because they know an equipment failure could result in the loss of a life. Employers know that if equipment isn't cared for properly, the outcome could be costly in terms of repair/replacement and in the costs associated with injury, disability and liability. But if someone asked you, "What's your most important piece of equipment?" it's unlikely that the answer would be "me."

In this profession of rescuers who are willing to risk their own lives to save the life of a stranger, it's not surprising that thinking about "self" is at the bottom of the priority list. However, the reality is that personnel are the most important—and least easily replaced—resources in any agency. This concept is more easily understood when the costs are calculated.

First, let's consider what the equation includes. Wrapped up in every employee are the initial costs associated with hiring and training, plus the ongoing costs of salaries and benefits. Plus, a mid to long-term employee possesses that priceless intangible—experience.

When an employee is unable to work, the employer receives no return on their investment, plus they incur the cost of a disability. Disability costs include expenses for medical evaluation and ongoing care, rehabilitation, light-duty time, retraining, shift replacement (usually at overtime rates) and poor morale (everyone suffers when a co-worker is ill or injured). More difficult to calculate are secondary costs, such as increases in insurance premiums driven by an agency's increased risk.

If we look at the big picture, back pain is by far the most common cause of disability for people younger than 45. Approximately 93 million workdays are lost each year in the United States, with an estimated cost of $30 billion to $50 billion annually, according to the National Safety Council. In addition, the World Health Organization anticipates that 25% of health-care expenditures in developing countries will be spent on musculoskeletal trauma-related care by the year 2010. This estimate prompted a proposal to declare the years 2000–2010 as the "Decade of the Bone and Joint System."

The financial impact of a musculoskeletal injury makes it easy to see why government agencies and employers need to protect their employees. Does your employer have a good prevention program, and is it supported as part of the culture of your department? And what about you? Do you see why you need to take good care of yourself? Do you realize how important it is to those who depend on you—your coworkers and your family?

The younger you are, the more likely you are to feel invincible. But ask anyone who has been around your department for a decade or two if they still feel that way, and the chances are that the more cavalier they've been in the past, the more they've paid, at least once, in terms of pain and time lost from the job. No doubt they've been uncomfortable knowing that someone else had to pick up their slack and that their disability has been an extra burden on their families. To make matters worse, they've had debilitating pain that has caused them to miss some of the "good times" that make life worth living. An even bigger tragedy is that many disabilities follow workers into their retirement and get worse as people age.

Read more in Part 2


Source: Barbara Dailey,