Metal fabricating, nursing care top serious Iowa workplace injuries

Ergonomics play a large role, health official says

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If you operate metal fabricating machinery or work in nursing or residential care facilities, you are more likely as an Iowan to sustain a serious workplace injury that will cause you to miss a day or more of work.

A new study compiled from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data by Allsup of Belleville, Ill., a private servicer of Social Security disability claims, found Iowa ranks 18th in the nation in terms of rates of injury per 100 full-time workers for metalworking machinery manufacturing.

The BLS data shows 4.9 injuries per 100 in 2011, compared with a national average of 0.9 percent for the same occupation.

Iowa ranks 22nd in the nation with 4.6 injuries per 100 full-time workers for those working in nursing and residential care facilities. That's higher than the nation rate of 1.5 injuries per 100 full-time workers.

Dr. Jeffrey Westpheling, an occupational medicine physician with Unity Point Health St. Luke's Work Well Solutions in Cedar Rapids, said back and other musculoskeletal injuries are the most common injuries in the field of nursing and residential care.

"A lot of that is due to the difficulty with ergonomics," Westpheling said. "I tell healthcare workers everyday that people don't have handles and predictable patterns of movement.

"When you look at ergonomics, you can say 'This is how you move a 25-pound box.' When you're moving a patient from his bed to a bedside commode and he doesn't cooperate or resists, it's a whole different category.

"Certified nurse assistants have the most difficult jobs that I deal with in terms of back injuries. They're the front line when it comes to lifting and moving patients on a daily basis.

"I find in-home healthcare workers to be at significant risk of injury because often they are working by themselves and cannot ask a co-worker to help them lift or move a patient."

Westpheling said nursing and residential care facilities have adopted strategies to minimize injuries to staff, such as using mechanical lifting equipment to move patients.

"That way you're not putting your healthcare workers at risk and it's really safer for patients," he said. "It's much less likely that the patient will fall and be injured as well."

Oregon led all states in terms of serious workplace injuries with 8.3 per 100 full-time workers in animal slaughtering and processing. Second-ranked Maine had a higher injury rate than Iowa in the category of nursing and residential care facilities with 7.1 per 100 workers.

Nationwide, the title of most dangerous occupation with the highest fatal work injury rate belongs to fishermen and related workers, followed in order by logging workers, aircraft pilots and flight engineers, garbage and recyclable material collectors, roofers, structural iron and steel workers, farmers and ranchers, driver/sales workers and truck drivers, electrical powerline installers and taxi drivers and chauffeurs.

A 20-year-old worker has a 30 percent chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age, according to the Social Security Administration. The agency tracks the statistics through its

administration of the Social Security Disability Insurance program. The federal insurance program that provides seriously injured or ill workers income until their conditions improve or they

qualify for retirement benefits.

Only a small percentage of the American population with disabilities will qualify for SSDI. Qualified beneficiaries have conditions that restrict them from doing their previous work, prevent them from adjusting to other work because of a medical condition that will last for at least a year or ultimately cause their death.

Many others suffer serious injuries or illnesses that do not qualify for SSDI coverage.

Musculoskeletal conditions make up the largest category of SSDI claims. The category includes degenerative back disorders that can be caused or exacerbated by work and severely hamper an individual’s ability to find a new source of employment.

Allsup was not able to access U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for nine states for its study of serious workplace injuries. Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island and South Dakota do not consistently report data to the federal agency.

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