Reducing Employee Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Risk

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition that primarily impacts the hand and wrist. The most profound and widely recognized symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are pain, numbness, and/or weakness in the hand and wrist. Many people believe this is a condition that impacts the muscles of the hand and wrist when, in fact, it’s the nerves. It is called carpal tunnel syndrome because it impacts the area known as the carpal tunnel, which is a passageway beneath the transverse ligament.

Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

There is no specific precipitating event that can be widely identified as a specific cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. However, there are certain work-related issues that have significant associations with carpal tunnel syndrome. They include:

  • Vibrations
  • Repetitive hand motions
  • Awkward hand positions
  • Mechanical stress on palms

It’s important to point out, though, that not all common associations with carpal tunnel syndrome are job related. There are other non-occupational contributing factors that may cause this condition as well including genetics (family history), gout, diabetes, arthritis, pregnancy, hypothyroidism, amyloidosis, menopause, cysts, fractures, and even the use of oral contraceptives. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, women have a significantly greater risk for developing carpal syndrome than men.

Risk factors also tend to be greater among people who are dealing with significant stress, abuse alcohol or drugs, smoke, or are obese. Those who meet the criteria for any of the health or lifestyle risk factors that work in fields where repetitive hand motions, vibrations, etc. are part of the job are at an even greater risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Reducing the Risks of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome on the Job

Occupational risks abound when it comes to carpal tunnel syndrome. The first step you can take, as an employer, that will greatly reduce the risk of your employees developing this condition is to educate them. Educate them about the causes, the risk factors, and various prevention methods they can follow to avoid the pain, missed work, and expense of carpal tunnel treatments. Let them know that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that carpal tunnel syndrome accounted for the most days away from work, due to injury or illness in 1999 by far with 27 days. Fractures were second with 20 days and amputations were third with only 18 days.

Create a more ergonomic workspace for your employees so that repetitive motions becomes less of a problem and additional strain and/or swelling aren’t likely to result from their work responsibilities. Encourage frequent short breaks, where employees are able to rest their wrists or shake out their hands. Consider rotating tasks that place particular strain on the hands and wrists so that one person isn’t doing the same tasks all the time. A policy such as this also leads to a more adaptable pool of labor that is cross-trained in several positions.

Despite your best efforts, there may be times when workers do develop carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of their responsibilities at work. Now is the time to make sure you have adequate worker’s compensation insurance to help cover the costs of treatment and surgery – before a worker files a claim.