Inactivity due to pandemic results in rising workplace injuries

On Behalf of | Oct 7, 2020 | Workers' Compensation

The Covid-19 pandemic has had many profound effects on the nation, including the deaths of more than 210,000 Americans. It has also plunged the U.S. into a recession resulting in millions losing their jobs and millions more being laid off or forced to work from home.

According to a recent survey of occupational safety professionals, the pandemic is also causing a rise in workplace injuries – particularly among workers returning to physically demanding jobs in manufacturing, construction, landscaping, truck loading, plumbing, auto repair, maintenance, baggage handling and roofing, among others.

Stress, pain on the rise

Attendees of a recent virtual conference for occupational safety pros were asked about worker stress and muscular discomfort experienced by employees since March – a whopping 89 percent reported that “workers were experiencing the same to significantly more stress and muscular discomfort.”

When asked if they expect musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) to increase or decrease when all employees have returned to their jobs, 95 percent of the occupational safety pros said they expect MSDs to stay the same or increase.

Different types of MSDs

It should be noted that MSDs include repetitive motion injuries, lower back pain, ligament sprains, muscle strains, carpal tunnel, shoulder tendinitis and more.

The biggest problem that physically active workers face when returning to their jobs is the deconditioning they experienced after being laid off or terminated.

Deconditioning begins within a week of inactivity, and when that inactivity stretches over months – as it has for many during the pandemic – it can mean a significant loss of fitness.

An article in EHS Today – a magazine for occupational safety and health professionals – states that “no one is immune to deconditioning — not the marathon runner, and not the industrial worker.”

The physical effects of inactivity

Physical deconditioning changes us in many ways, including reductions in the following areas:

  • Cardiovascular fitness: inactivity can cause your heart to atrophy, resulting in difficulty pumping blood to working muscles
  • Endurance: this results in lactic acid build-up in muscles and body fatigue
  • Muscle strength: the average person can lose from 1 percent to 3 percent of muscle strength per inactive day
  • Range of motion: prolonged inactivity results in diminished elasticity and increased muscle stiffness

Of course, when you add up all the negatives associated with physical inactivity, you will likely experience yet another negative: weight gain. Burning fewer calories will pack on the pounds, especially for those who don’t adjust their calorie intake.

Most common MSD

According to the EHS Today article, of the many work-related MSDs likely to occur when a person returns to a physically active job after weeks or months of inactivity, the most common are lower back injuries. The publication notes that up to 20 percent of lower back disorders are caused by push-pull exertions during manual material-handling.

It adds that the good news about deconditioning is that it can be reversed by a gradual increase in physical activity.


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