Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at Work – Prevention is the Best Cure!

If you need assistance with carpal tunnel syndrome as discussed in this article call us at 1-800-344-4414 or email us at info@atlenv.com for details and a free estimate.

 

Written by Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President and Candice Kowalewski, MPH

July 14, 2015

The paths to treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are long and tedious, generally painful; almost always a great hindrance to performing your job—often to the extent that you simply can’t do it anymore. In fact, you may lose your job, get laid off, or fired, and often have to file a claim or file a lawsuit to get the case and treatment you deserve.

Whether you’re an employee, human resources manager, office or production manager, or supervisor, waiting for a carpal tunnel injury to occur before taking action is not the best action whether it is in the office or in the factory. The sooner carpal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat – and the better the prognosis.   Left untreated, however, the inflammation can lead to scarring in the area, resulting in a weakened grip and severe chronic pain in the forearm or shoulder.

What are the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is often the result of a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel, rather than a problem with the nerve itself. The Office of Communications and Public Liaison, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), & National Institutes of Health (NIH) (2015) found most likely the disorder is due to a congenital predisposition – the carpal tunnel is simply smaller in some people than in others. Other contributing factors include trauma or injury to the wrist that cause swelling, such as sprain or fracture; over activity of the pituitary gland; hypothyroidism; rheumatoid arthritis; mechanical problems in the wrist joint; work stress; repeated use of vibrating hand tools; fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause; or the development of a cyst or tumor in the canal.  In some cases no cause can be identified.

Who is at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome?

Women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, perhaps because the carpal tunnel itself may be smaller in women than in men. The dominant hand is usually affected first and produces the most severe pain. Persons with diabetes, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, Raynaud’s disease, or other metabolic disorders that directly affect the body’s nerves and make them more susceptible to compression are also at high risk. Carpal tunnel syndrome usually occurs only in adults.

The risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome is not confined to people in a single industry or job, but is especially common in occupations that require performing assembly line work – manufacturing, lumber handling, cashiering, knitting, industrial sewing, drilling, plumbing, carpentry, finishing, cleaning, and meat, poultry, or fish packing. In fact, carpal tunnel syndrome is three times more common among assemblers than among data-entry personnel. Job tasks that require highly repetitive and forceful motions as well as awkward wrist postures are at an increased risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Vibrating tools such as impact wrenches, grinders, jackhammers and chainsaws with medium to high vibration values are also associated with upper extremity Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs).

How can carpal tunnel syndrome be prevented?

Employers can develop programs in ergonomics, the process of adapting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of workers. Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a healthy and safe workplace. Accurate and complete records need to be kept in order to measure the effectiveness of a program. Prevention involves a variety of tasks, some by the worker, some by supervision and human resources, and some best left to the experts – the ergonomist.

THINGS YOUR EMPLOYER CAN DO:

  • Work with someone trained in ergonomics and health and safety inside or outside the company to evaluate the risks.
  • Provide training to workers on how to avoid or eliminate hazardous motions or postures.
  • Conduct a survey of employees to identify problem areas.
  • Talk to equipment makers and engineers about redesigning the work or tools in problem areas.
  • Jobs can be rotated among workers.

Redesigning work stations is important, proper work station design reduces awkward wrist positions and minimizes the stressful effects of repetitive motions.   For example, keep your wrists straight or only slightly bent. Awkward positions can originate from unsuitable work station designs that do not take into account the size and proportions of the human body.

Redesigning tools and tool handles, and tasks is also important to maintain a natural or neutral position during work. “One study in a poultry processing plant found that workers who used standard knives were prone to carpal tunnel syndrome (OSH Answers Fact Sheets, 2014).” A better design that offered a bend would help eliminate the need for bending the wrist.

Workers and their managers need education and training about engineering controls and administrative measures. Workers should know: how to recognize the signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome; who to report them to; how to adjust equipment; when to give their hands and wrists a rest from forceful motions, and take other steps to prevent getting carpal tunnel syndrome.

THINGS THE EMPLOYEE CAN DO:

  • Participate in your company’s Health and Safety Committee or Ergonomics Committee. Or help form a committee if your co-workers and management are willing. Such committees can look for solutions to jobs that may be contributing to sore hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders.
  • Get training on how to work safely if you get new equipment or move to a new job.
  • Talk to the plant nurse or health and safety specialist, if your company has one, about any problems you are having.
  • Share these tips with other workers. The best way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome is to understand the risk factors and recognize any symptoms early on.
  • Restrict your salt intake if you tend to retain fluid. Salt promotes water retention which can contribute to swelling.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking aggravates carpal tunnel syndrome by constricting the small blood vessels of the hand.
  • Perform stretching exercises.
  • Take frequent rest breaks.

Sometimes what people think is carpal tunnel syndrome is something else entirely.

Atlantic Environmental Inc. is ready to help you find ways to save money and prevent injuries in the workplace. For more information, or professional help contact Robert Sheriff MS, CIH, CSP or Candice Kowalewski, MPH at 1-800-344-4414 or at info@atlenv.com

Our primary service areas are: NJ, NY, NYC, PA, CT, DE, (Boston) MA, RI, Wash DC, WI, MD, MI, (Chicago) IL, VA, IN, (Atlanta) GA, AL, NC, SC, TN, (Dallas, Ft Worth) TX, OK, DC, AR, we can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.

Resources

AFSCME. (n.d.). Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Retrieved July 14, 2015, from http://www.afscme.org/news/publications/workplace-health-and-safety/fact-sheets/carpal-tunnel-syndrome

Office of Communications and Public Liaison, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), & National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2015, April 17). Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet. Retrieved July 14, 2015, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/carpal_tunnel/detail_carpal_tunnel.htm

OSH Answers Fact Sheets. (2014, December 2). Retrieved July 14, 2015, from http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/carpal.html

Silverstein, PhD, MPH, B., Bao, PhD, S., & Howard, MS, N. (2012, July 1). Your Body, Your Job: Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other Upper Extremity Musculoskeletal Disorders. Retrieved July 14, 2015, from http://www.lni.wa.gov/IPUB/413-024-000.pdf