We all want to mitigate the surge in new cases of COVID-19 and in doing so, it is important to not lose focus and make sure that those who are working overtime to help, don’t get injured.

The consequences of a pandemic event are hard to predict but it is worthwhile putting plans in place and protecting employees so that business continues no matter the circumstances. When it comes to the coronavirus it is crucial that businesses identify risks factors that may lead to higher workplace injuries and the impact it is having on their employees when it comes to their musculoskeletal health. Anything put in place now can be kept and transferred if there is ever an event again, time invested is never wasted.

Warehousing, food retail and health services are among the few manual handling industries that are being impacted by the pandemic and as the situation is flux and evolving, there is no telling exactly what is going to happen next. There are supply risk issues now but given the increasing quarantine there are possible upcoming demand risks that will need to be addressed but for now, food supply industries are working over-time to deliver and fill shelves, and the health service industry is working overtime to nurse the already infected.

What are the increased risk factors?

Society should not have the attitude that workers need to possibly lose their movement well-being in order to make a living. It is common knowledge that prevention is key to tackling workplace injuries – it’s less costly than rehabilitation treatment and provides workers with the best chance at staying safe. According to the World Health Organization, musculoskeletal injuries account for the greatest proportion of lost productivity in the workplace and are commonly linked with depression and the increased risk of developing other chronic conditions.

The recent increase in the delivery and supply in food distribution services has generated enormous demand on manual material handling workers in warehousing and retail industries. The pressure placed on the health workers is apparent. Both have significant risk of possible incurrence of injuries based on different factors.

Anastasia Vasina, Medical Doctor and Physiotherapist at Soter Analytics explains, “Working in an environment that has a sudden increased level of stress due to instances such as the onset of the coronavirus can have significant impact on musculoskeletal well-being. When there is a mismatch between individual performance capacity and work demands there is likely to be an increase in injury. These scenarios can often be seen during busy periods like the build-up to the holiday’s, however if the task or job stays at the new raised level, this further increases the risk due to association with the decreased capacity. It becomes a viscous cycle”.

Overtime & fatigue

Overtime puts anyone at the chance of increased injury. Studies show that working more than 10 hours a day increases the risk by 40 percent and 12 hours will double the risk. Insufficient recovery periods cause muscle instability and impaired muscle coordination. Fatigue leads to impaired performance. Once a worker begins to feel fatigued, movements are affected as short cuts are taken. For example, this is often seen during movements that require spinal rotation – common among warehouse workers and health care workers. Rotating in the lower back rather than turning the whole body in order to save energy is an easy mistake during rush times and or/when fatigue has set it, this causes surrounding muscles to go into a protective spasm to prevent the spine from damage and thus causes lower back pain.

Continuous and repeated force exertions over a significant period of time may have an impact and cause tissue changes which decrease stability.

Keep workers aware of the increased risk

Working with manual workers to scale preventative behaviors and help mitigate the increased manual handling risks due to the current changes in the global environment is important. Keep communication open and send messages pertaining to the importance of back safety and awareness even during the rush. As quarantine rules increase, adopt individual back-safety programs, use technology that requires no group training/implementation or onsite consultants. Find the tools that best help your workforce and demands. The musculoskeletal health of workers can be put into the hands of the individual, creating autonomy and decreasing the safety risk from the organisation.

Addressing the crux of manual worker burnout during this worldwide crisis is crucial as it can easily escalate into injury if not managed. It’s important for organizations to encourage workers to put themselves first and help mitigate injury risks by not only moving with awareness at work but maintaining healthy sleeping habits, keeping hydrated and well-nourished and prioritize looking after their bodies, especially now as stress levels are up and demands on workers are high.

Don’t substitute the manual workers safety during the global distraction of coronavirus.