MSD complaints fall sharply with stretching program

Team effort is key

When occupational health professionals at Replacements, a Greensboro, NC-based supplier of old and new china, crystal, silver, and collectibles with 550 employees, did a review of their Occupational Safety and Health Administration 300 log of work-related injuries and illnesses, they found that their largest worker's compensation numbers were coming from musculoskeletal (MSD) complaints.

"Our approach was to look at our opportunities, not the potential problems," says Carol S. Harris, RN, BSN, COHN-S/CM, an occupational health nurse. A goal was set to reduce MSD complaints while maintaining or increasing productivity.

The order processing and silver polishing departments were chosen for the initiative. Each had about 25 employees with about the same number of MSD complaints.

"Both departments were given instruction by me on stretching exercises," says Harris. "I demonstrated them and explained the benefits of the exercises with an interpreter for non-English speaking folks. I assisted each department in setting up a schedule that would accommodate department production needs."

Each department did the exercises five times a day: At the beginning of their shift, when they returned from their first break, after lunch, after their second break and then at the end of the day before leaving to go home.

There was an important difference, however, while the silver department did their exercises on the honor system using a self-report system monitored by the department supervisor, the order processing department exercised as a group.

"These were the same exercises that the silver department was doing, on the same timetable," says Harris. "But this department actually exercised together. A supervisor took part each time, and the group added music for the last exercise routine of the day. It became a fun event, not just something that the occupational health nurse said needed to be done."

From 2005 to 2008, both departments decreased the number of reported MSD complaints—the silver department from eight to one, and the order processing department from thirteen to zero.

"This resulted in decreased employee injury, decreased workers' comp premiums, and decreased loss of production due to light duty needs and the other multitude of costs that are not so visible with an employee injury," says Harris. These include travel time to physician and physical therapy visits, time lost away from work, restricted duty which causes loss in productivity, and job transfers to cover light duty loss time.

Two other surprising gains were noted: Order processing employees increased productivity about 20%, and many decided to participate in other wellness and disease management programs.

"Our workers' comp premiums received a credit of a significant amount," says Harris. "This has been a really wow moment for our senior team."


For more information on reducing musculoskeletal complaints, contact:

• Carol S. Harris, RN, BSN, COHN-S/CM, Replacements, Greensboro, NC. Phone: (336) 697-3000, ext 2044. E-mail: