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Preventing Hand-Wrist Musculoskeletal Disorders

Sep 11, 2019

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 350,000 cases of work-relatedPerson at computer holding wrist musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) were reported in the U.S. in 2016. These ailments can affect the back, hands, wrist, leg, shoulders and other body parts that can become strained over the course of the workday.

One particular MSD that afflicts millions of Americans is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), which is caused by frequent, forceful hand exertions. Along with the multi-billion dollar annual medical care costs associated with CTS, it also has the second highest rate of opioid prescribing by injury type among workers treated under workers’ compensation.

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) established a threshold limit value (TLV) for hand activity in 2001 to provide guidelines for preventing hand, wrist and elbow MSDs among workers with hand-intensive tasks. This value considers both applied hand force and repetition of hand exertions. When the TLV is exceeded, the risk of suffering an MSD increases.

Over time, studies found that the TLV did not sufficiently protect workers at risk of CTS, so ACGIH revised the TLV in 2018 to develop more effective guidelines. A recent study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, found that that new guidelines better protect workers from CTS than the 2001 guidelines.

The results showed that eliminating exposure above the 2018 TLV would have prevented 47 cases of CTS, while the 2001 limit would have prevented 21 cases. The researchers analyzed CTS incident case data from workers in a variety of occupations and industries across the U.S.

Safety professionals are encouraged to utilize the updated TLV guidelines to reduce worker exposure to hand-intensive tasks and prevent MSDs in the workplace.

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