Research paper examines why diversity, equity and inclusion should be a foundational element of musculoskeletal disorder prevention and provides equitable solutions to minimize worker risks

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- While efforts have been made in recent years to increase workplace safety through regulations, innovative technologies, hazard assessments and other methods, research shows workers of color face more work-related injuries and illnesses, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. Recognizing this disparity and that musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, are the most common workplace injury, the National Safety Council released a new report, The Intersection of DEI and MSDs: Ensuring Equitable Outcomes.

The National Safety Council is dedicated to eliminating the leading causes of preventable death and injury focusing our efforts on the workplace, roadway and impairment. (PRNewsfoto/National Safety Council)

"At the National Safety Council, we believe fostering diversity, equity and inclusion is not only a moral imperative but also essential for creating safer and healthier work environments for all," said Lorraine Martin, NSC president and CEO. "This report, which analyzes the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion on the largest category of workplace injuries, underscores our commitment to advancing equitable outcomes within the occupational safety landscape."

Published through the MSD Solutions Lab, a groundbreaking NSC initiative established in 2021 with funding from Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) to solve work-related MSDs, the research paper identifies workplace factors that can lead to inequitable MSD outcomes and provides solutions for mitigation. Specifically, the report references more than 100 academic publications and sources and examines the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion on work organization, workplace and equipment design, safety culture, psychological safety, and psychosocial risk factors. Key findings center on:

  • Work organization: Shift work, long hours and part-time employee status can impact the prevalence of MSDs among workers. Demanding work schedules can increase the risk of MSDs due to less time for adequate sleep and recovery from work, longer exposure to hazards and demands at work, and less time to attend to non-work responsibilities. Other workplace factors highly associated with MSD risk and prevalence are the type of job and the pace at which work is done.
  • Workplace and equipment design: An employee who uses a wheelchair or an employee smaller than a fifth percentile female may have difficulty accessing the full range of their workstation depending on its design. PPE has also traditionally been designed to fit the average White male and, as a result, females in the workforce are often not provided with properly fitting gear. One survey found that only 19% of women, non-binary and transgender construction workers received appropriately sized gloves and safety gear.
  • Safety culture: Creating a strong safety culture is an important factor in making sure workplaces are inclusive and safe from MSD risks. Workplaces that do not offer benefits such as paid sick leave and long-term disability may create an unsafe culture in which employees feel insecure about taking necessary time off when they have suffered a workplace injury. Clear and accessible policies and procedures are vital to ensuring organizations are equitably protecting all workers from safety risks.
  • Psychological safety: Employee wellbeing at work is significantly influenced by a sense of belonging to the organization or team, with managers showing appreciation for their employees and involving them in decision-making. Voice suppression can prove particularly harmful to employees of color, as they may already perceive their voices and opinions as less valued than the majority group. As a result of this disparity, Black and Hispanic workers report the most unease about reporting unsafe work conditions when compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
  • Psychosocial risk factors: Common psychosocial risk factors are job stress, lack of job control or autonomy, job dissatisfaction, time pressure and poor organizational, supervisor or coworker support. Occupational stress has shown to increase MSDs, with role conflict and lack of job control leading to wrist, hand, shoulder and lower back issues. Further, psychosocial risks are more pervasive in jobs and industries commonly employing workers of color and female workers.

In addition to examining the impact of workplace factors on MSDs, the report also outlines potential solutions to address inequities and risks based on the hierarchy of controls, including:

  • Elimination: Be mindful of jobs that demand high exertions, awkward or sustained postures, and a fast pace and eliminate them when able.
  • Substitution: Adapt workplace design to those with different sizes and abilities and provide ergonomic accommodations for employees with medical conditions or disabilities.
  • Engineering: Provide adjustable assistive devices and technology – including lifts, ramps, hoists, cobots, carts, counterbalances, turntables and conveyors – to minimize strain and repetitive motions and incorporate designs respecting different cultural norms and practices.
  • Administrative: Utilize policies and procedures to ensure accessibility for all workers, an open and anonymous reporting system, and promote diverse representation in safety leadership and training materials. Further, it is essential to seek and include feedback on job tasks and risk factors from a diverse group of employees to source solutions that are helpful for everyone.
  • PPE: Routinely check in with employees to confirm PPE needs are being appropriately met, including those with different body types, abilities and cultural preferences.

Pioneering research is one of several initiatives supported by the MSD Solutions Lab to achieve its goal of preventing MSDs. To learn more about these efforts and the risks associated with MSDs, visit nsc.org/msd.

About the National Safety Council
The National Safety Council is America's leading nonprofit safety advocate – and has been for 110 years. As a mission-based organization, we work to eliminate the leading causes of preventable death and injury, focusing our efforts on the workplace and roadways. We create a culture of safety to not only keep people safer at work, but also beyond the workplace so they can live their fullest lives.

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SOURCE National Safety Council

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