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Feature Article

Common on the Job Injuries Can Be Prevented

From back pain and repetitive stress injuries to hearing loss and even cancer, our health can be negatively affected by our workplace conditions and the type of work that we do.

“On-the-job illness or injury can occur in any work setting, although some industries may have greater risks than others. Firefighters, for example, have a dangerous job and are more at risk for musculoskeletal disorders and cancers,” said that  Michaela Best, a family nurse practitioner with Samaritan Medical Group Occupational Medicine in Newport “Here on the Oregon Coast, we see a lot of injuries in the fishing industry due to the dangerous nature of the work.”

What’s the difference between an occupational illness and an occupational injury? According to Best, “An occupational illness is a condition that typical occurs over time where an occupational injury is usually the result of an accident on-the-job, like a trip or fall.” 

Hearing loss, musculoskeletal disorders and stress are among the top three occupational illnesses that Best sees in her practice.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is the most common occupational illness in the United States but it is often not addressed early, which can lead to a poor outcome.

“People frequently assume that their hearing loss is due to their age or that it’s something they can manage on their own so they don’t seek medical treatment early,” said Best. “But once hearing is gone, you can’t get it back.  Early screening and care are crucial so that we can initiate medical interventions that can help prevent hearing loss.”

“Hearing loss has been linked to a potential cause of dementia, which is another reason why getting care early is so important,” added Best.  

If you work in a noisy environment such as a mill, factory or construction site, Best recommends wearing effective hearing protection. It’s also important to get screened on an annual basis, at minimum.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

 Each year, back pain alone costs employers more than $7 billion and more than 100 million lost workdays.

Back pain can be caused by a variety of factors such as improperly lifting or carrying heavy or awkward loads as well as frequently needing to stretch, reach or twist your body. People who have desk jobs are also at risk, especially if they have poor posture while seated.

Like back issues, repetitive stress injuries are a very common occupational injury and can cause debilitating pain. These injuries occur in jobs requiring repetitive motion or sitting or standing for extended periods of time, such as being a grocery checker, working in an assembly or manufacturing role and working in an office, especially if you are using a keyboard frequently.

“Good posture and taking micro breaks can help to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury or reinjury,” said Best. “Getting medical treatment quickly when injured is also important. Left untreated many musculoskeletal disorders can affect the ability to perform a job or even do basic everyday tasks.”

Stress/Mental Health

This is an often-overlooked occupational illness, but it is quite common. According to the World Health Organization, 83 percent of people in the United States report experiencing work-related stress. Fifty-four percent report this stress carries over into their personal life.

What causes stress on the job depends on the person, the nature of the work and the stressors.

“There are nurses and police officers who see traumatic events regularly that they can’t get out of their minds.  A factory employee may have a musculoskeletal injury, for example, and become stressed about their treatment and their job security,” said Best. “Many people also get stressed due to work overload, a fast-paced environment or production pressures.”

Best encourages anyone with work stress to reach out for help.

“Many employers offer an employee assistance program, which connects employees with mental health resources,” said Best. “I strongly encourage people to access these programs if it’s available to them through their work.”

Unmanaged workplace stress can have an adverse effect on one’s overall health, including increasing the risk of anxiety, depression, alcohol or drug abuse, smoking and binge eating.

Other Common Occupational Illnesses

  • Respiratory illnesses.
  • Dermatitis / Skin disease.
  • Cancer.
  • Infectious diseases.

How To Stay Healthy in the Workplace

To help reduce your risk for an occupational illness or injury there are several things you can do, including:

  • Listen to your body and seek medical care early.
  • Be properly trained.
  • Always practice good ergonomics.
  • Use appropriate (and effective) safety gear and equipment.
  • If you’re stressed, talk to someone.
  • Give your body a break, even if it’s a micro break, while doing repetitive motions.
  • Follow the rules of your employer’s health and safety plan.
  • Report unsafe conditions to your employer.
  • Schedule annual check-ups with your doctor.

For employers, Best recommends utilizing pre-employment screens to ensure someone is physically fit and that there isn’t anything in their health history that will make it difficult for them to do the job. Screens may also identify pre-existing injuries that might be prone to reinjury.

“Annual screenings are a great way to prevent work-related injuries and disease, and can help us catch health issues early,” said Best.

Samaritan Occupational Medicine provides services for employers and their employees, including treatment of injured workers, drug/alcohol screenings, pre-employment and annual exams, immunizations, and testing. For more information, visit Samaritan Medical Group Occupational Medicine - Newport.