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A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discusses trends in cases of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) that were first identified by a California Department of Public Health (CDPH) analysis of workers’ compensation claims. The report identifies the industries and occupations with the highest reported rates of CTS, and calculates rates per full-time equivalent worker (FTE).

Given the high frequency of CTS and other ergonomics hazards present in the workplace, EHS professionals should take special note of this report. Let’s spend some time reviewing the report and its implications for your business, and for the safety of your workers.

What is CTS?

First, let’s start with a little background. What is CTS, what are its symptoms, and how does it impact workers?

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway on the palm side of your wrist made of up bones and ligaments that carries the median nerve, which is responsible for sensation and movement in the thumb and first three fingers. CTS occurs when the nerve is squeezed or compressed within this passageway, causing it to no longer function properly — resulting in numbness, pain and tingling sensations in the hand and arm.

A person who hasn’t experienced the symptoms of CTS for long will often be able to find relief by wearing a wrist splint, or by simply avoiding certain activities, particularly tasks involving forceful, repetitive motion or prolonged use of the wrists or hands in an awkward posture. However, repeated performance of these tasks may ultimately lead to nerve damage and worsening symptoms.

The CDC Report

The CDPH analysis cited in the CDC report analyzed data from worker’s compensation claims in California between 2007 and 2014. The analysis identified 139,336 probable and possible cases of CTS during this time period.

Here are some of the key findings of the analysis, as reported by the CDC:

  • The overall rate of CTS among workers was 6.3 cases per 10,000 FTE
  • The rate decreased during the study from 6.7 during 2007-2010 to 5.9 during 2011-2014
  • The rate of CTS was highest among persons 45-54 years of age (8.4)
  • The rate among women (8.2) was 3.3 times higher than the rate among men (2.5)
  • The top 5 industries in terms of CTS rate were:
    1. Textile and fabric finishing and coating mills (44.9)
    2. Apparel accessories and other apparel manufacturing (43.1)
    3. Animal slaughtering and processing (39.8)
    4. Public administration (37.5)
    5. Sugar and confectionery products (36.2)
  • Occupations experiencing the highest rates of CTS rate were:
    1. Production, within census occupational code for “electrical, electronics, and electromechanical assemblers” (14.0)
    2. Material moving, within census occupational code for “refuse and recyclable material collectors” (13.4)
    3. Office and administrative support, within census occupational code for “telephone operators” (13.0)
    4. Healthcare support, within census occupational code for “massage therapists” (11.9)

As always, there are some limitations to the findings of this study, including variations in industry coding across workers’ compensation systems, and lack of normalization by hours worked due to the fact that California does not collect the number of employee hours worked by industry. However, the findings are consistent with those of previous studies including a 2010 National Health Interview Survey, and therefore merit serious consideration.

Employers within these high-risk industries, or which conduct high-risk operations as identified within this study, should strongly consider taking a more proactive approach to preventing CTS and other ergonomics injuries. Remember that ergonomics risks may be present even if no recordable injuries have occurred, as we’ve discussed previously on this page. It’s best to be proactive and assume you have room to improve, because you most likely do.

Let VelocityEHS Help!

Do you need help getting started on improving your workplace ergonomics programs? Download our infographic “Hidden Signs of Ergonomics Issues” for tips on identifying workplace ergonomics risk factors that may be hidden in plain sight.

Looking for a better way to manage your workplace ergonomics programs? Our VelocityEHS software solutions make it quick and easy to perform ergonomics risk assessments, resolve ergonomics issues, and deliver employee training needed to prevent CTS and other ergonomics-related injuries.

Our VelocityEHS System gives you a sophisticated, all-in-one solution for managing workplace ergonomics in production and assembly environments. By combining online training and assessment tools, expert consultation and a powerful management database, your organization will have everything necessary to deploy, monitor, and manage the ergonomics process across each of your locations.

For employees in office environments, our Ergopoint ® system has you covered with an all-in-one web-based solution for assessing and monitoring ergonomics issues at your workstations. Web-based training and self-assessment tools allow employees to address common areas of concern, and empowers individuals to identify issues and improve the ergonomic fit of their own workstations.

There’s no better time than now to ensure you’re protecting your workers from CTS and other ergonomics-related injuries. Contact us today to learn how we can provide you with the tools and support you need to improve the safety and morale of your workforce.