Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), such as low back pain, tendinitis, hand-arm vibration syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome, account for a major component of the cost of work-related illness in the United States. Recent estimates of the costs associated with work-related musculoskeletal disorders range from $13 to $54 billion annually. Regardless of the estimate used, the problem is large both in health and economic terms. The enormous scope of the problem is confirmed by statistics from the Annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For those cases involving days away from work, BLS reports that in 1997 approximately one third of the total, or 603,096 cases, were the result of overexertion or repetitive motion. Specifically: 297,317 of these injuries involved lifting; 75,896 were associated with pushing or pulling tasks; and 60,588 were related to holding, carrying, or turning objects. Approximately 63 percent of overexertion injuries affected the back. The median time away from work due to overexertion injuries was six days for lifting, seven days for pushing/pulling, and six days for holding/carrying/turning. 75,188 injuries or illnesses occurred as a result of repetitive motion, including typing or key entry, repetitive use of tools, and repetitive placing, grasping, or moving of objects other than tools. Sixty- eight percent of these affected the wrist, followed by 9 percent affecting the shoulder, and 7 percent affecting the back. The median time away from work was 17 days as a result of injuries or illnesses due to repetitive motion.
Director DSHEFS, NIOSH, R-12, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio