There is a silent epidemic in the work force. It is called cumulative trauma disorder (CTD). Approximately one-half of all occupational illnesses is the result of CTD.

WHAT IS CUMULATIVE TRAUMA?

CTDs are injuries caused by physical trauma to specific parts of the body, most often the wrist or hand, but it may affect other parts such as the legs, back, or shoulder. What is unique to CTD is that the injury does not come from a single incident but from an accumulation of repeated actions that gradually cause the injury.

An example is the worker who repeatedly uses his hands on an assembly line or to operate a high speed drill or other power tool. He may develop a cumulative trauma disorder in the wrist known as carpel tunnel syndrome. This particular CTD can result in pain and numbness in the hand and ultimately require surgery.

Other common CTDs are tenosynovitis or tennis elbow and thoracic outlet syndrome from repeated or overuse of the back or shoulder.

WHO IS AT RISK?

Any worker whose job requires repetitive tasks is at risk. This includes not only workers who use hand tools or work on assembly lines but also office workers such as telephone operators and typists.

SOLVING THE PROBLEM.

While workers’ compensation insurance will generally cover this disease, prevention is the best medicine. There are three simple steps that employers can take to reduce the risk of CTDs to employees:

PROVIDE THE PROPER TOOLS:

A leading cause of CTD is the use of hand tools that are unnecessarily designed to cause added stress to the wrist, or are too heavy, or are simply not proper for the job that needs to be done. As the risks of cumulative trauma disorder become widely recognized, more manufacturers are making tools that are lighter, designed to be more easily held, and safer to use.

REDUCE THE REPETITIOUSNESS OF THE TASK:

This means rotating tasks to avoid excessive repetition, slowing down the production line, or increasing the number of workers.

IMPROVED WORKER TRAINING AND EDUCATION:

By making workers aware of the risks of TD, they can learn how to avoid its dangers by changing the way they work.

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