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Preventing repetitive stress injuries in construction

Low-cost OSHA 10-Hour General Industry Class

Unlike injuries from falls, electrocution, or other serious construction hazards, repetitive stress injuries – also known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – might start with only minor aches and pains. However, returning to the same task without time to recover can damage nerves, tendons, muscles, ligaments, and joints. Injuries could include shoulder and low back strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendonitis. Recognizing what causes these symptoms is the first step in preventing injuries. These tips can help:

1 Use hand tools the right way.

Always choose a tool that is designed for the job, fits your hand size, keeps your wrist straight, and has a handle that extends beyond your palm. Choose the lightest weight tool possible to do the job.

2 Reduce the stress of overhead drilling.

Overhead drilling can result in sore hands, arms, shoulders, and backs. Drill bit extensions can lessen the stress on the body and reduce the force and strain on the shoulders and arms. Also, overhead and inverted drill presses, some mounted on tripod bases with telescoping poles, allow the upper arms to remain below the shoulder for more comfortable drilling.

3 Protect the back.

Back injuries are the most common injury in construction. Most back injuries are from lifting, carrying, bending at the waist, or pushing and pulling. To prevent back injuries, avoid lifting more than 50 pounds, stay out of awkward postures, and never twist when lifting. Use carts, dollies, forklifts, hoists, or another worker to help you lift heavy materials. Avoid staying in a bent or uncomfortable position for long periods, and always turn your whole body when lifting. Instead of bending, keep the object between your knees and lift straight up with your legs.

4 Avoid overexertion when laying bricks.

Bricklayers and masons have the highest rates of back and overexertion injuries in the construction industry. Certain tools, materials, and work practices that can reduce the risk of MSDs include limiting the weight by using half-size pallets, two-person lifts, H-blocks, and mortar silos (to eliminate cement bag handling and sand shoveling). Also, the use of mast climbing scaffolds and aerial lifts can reduce injuries caused by repeated over-reaching.

5 Reduce exposure to vibration.

Vibrations from power tools, machinery, vehicles, and heavy equipment affect the blood supply to the fingers, arms, and toes. Always wear gloves or use anti-vibration wraps to improve grip strength and lessen vibration. Use padding on heavy equipment seats and dampening materials on the engine and cab flooring. Take regular breaks when using tools that cause vibration.

For more information on preventing MSDs in construction or on the benefits of investing in worker safety, review CPWR’s Ergonomics Training Programs and Resources webpage and their Return on Investment (ROI) Calculator. The ROI Calculator helps contractors assess the financial impact of purchasing new equipment to improve safety, save time, and increase productivity while gauging the cost of worker injuries, lost workdays, legal and medical liabilities, and, too often, shortened careers. Contact a DWC Safety Training Specialist for more information on construction health and safety training and education at or 1-800-252-7031, option 2.


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Last updated: 1/31/2024