Loss Control Insights
Quick Fixes for Contact Stresses
A common but often unnoticed workplace ergonomics problem is contact stress. While not a major cause of reported on–the–job injuries, contact stress can slow down workers in their job duties and can lead to other injuries, especially when combined with other ergonomic risk factors: force, repetition and awkward postures. Contact stress can occur in nearly any type of job.
Points of Contact
Contact stress happens when some part of a worker’s body—knees, elbows, wrists or fingers, for example—touches or rubs up against a hard, sharp or inflexible surface repetitively or for an extended period of time. The surface could be a workstation, the floor, a ladder, a tool or the handle of a bucket.
Localized pressure from the surface or object against sensitive body tissue can affect blood flow, nerve function, or movement of tendons and muscles. It can also impede the range of motion of muscles and tendons, cause inflammation and bruised muscles, tingling, numbness, reduced grip strength, stiffness, loss of circulation and aching.
Common Problems and Solutions
Here are some common activities that cause contact stress and some suggestions for preventing or reducing the severity of that stress.
|Resting elbows on a hard surface to hold the weight of your head; causes elbow bursitis, often called “student elbow”|
|Using the hand or palm as a hammer|
|Carrying a heavy pail with a small diameter or plain wire handle|
|Resting wrists or forearms on edges of desks or worktables|
|Carrying a heavy object with sharp edges that dig into palms or fingers|
|Repetitive use of tools with non-cushioned handles|
|Resting forearms on hard armrests|
|Carrying boxes or bins|
Photos of some of the solutions can be found in EMC’s Workplace Injury Prevention Guide (pages 9-10). In addition to making changes in tools or workstations, add micro breaks and stretching exercises to work routines to keep minor stresses from becoming full–blown injuries.