I want to raise a community concern regarding the protection from and response to workplace injuries and worker’s rights to protections, particularly those ones which protected hazards and are very common, but are not as classically thought of when it comes to reporting: Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), including things such as back pain, tendonitis, repetitive strain injuries, overuse syndrome, and carpal tunnel.
These are all preventable injuries, yet the experience for some staff has shown that they are occurring within work units, especially those where sitting and computing involving repetitive tasks compromise the entirety of an 8hr work day, and employees are remaining unaware of their rights to have these injuries examined, covered, and reported in order to begin claims for Worker’s Compensation. Our university has an Environmental Health and Safety Program, and certifies people in health and safety via our OSHA Training Institute (OTI) Education Center, but on an individual department level, we have found these concerns are not being handled timely or responsibly when workers report issues related to these disorders, often caused by ergonomic misalignment, tools, high workloads, and high volumes of computer-based work.
When an employee has expressed they are experiencing pain and discomfort, instead of being directed to consult immediately with Occupational Health or see a medical provider for a Worker’s Compensation assessment, either:
their concerns are being acknowledged but not addressed, or, if they request alternate equipment or evaluation for alternate basic equipment, they are being given the personal additional barrier of needing a medical provider’s documented note in order to schedule an ergonomic assessment or being issued equipment that is fitting to their bodies. Within units, the workstations are standardized at an adjustable height, non-ergonomic equipment is issued during onboarding, and chairs are being assigned that do not provide adequate support for correct posture that would prevent or mitigate employee MSD injury.
ASU has policies within the EHS Manual that dictate the reporting procedures for injury, which if followed the same for MSDs as other incidents such as trips and falls, would provide employees with access to information needed to address their injuries, and receive an evaluation for their protections through Worker’s Compensation. However, in practice, this is not happening equitably when each department is able to make its own guidelines for how employees are directed to seek treatment for MSDs, how to inform workers on how to recognize symptoms and remain safe from ergonomic injuries, and how employee requests for ergonomic assessment or alternative work equipment such as chairs and keyboards are handled on the everyday level.
This may be a mixture of needing additional training to be provided to departments regarding what injuries should be addressed and formally reported and when, as well as providing clear guidelines from the University as to what actions departments and supervision are required to take when an employee expresses they are experiencing pain at their workstation, and while working.
A main concern this presents for the entire ASU community, is how we are best serving our most vulnerable employees, and working to protect their rights as well as their health and safety. An inter-departmental policy that does not require supervision to address employee complaints about pain or injury and report them, where they are not being told to not direct employees to the correct channels once the employee tells their supervision so that the employee may be evaluated for eligibility for Worker’s Compensation, and then when that unit further requires medical documentation for an ergonomic assessment to be scheduled, after an employee has notified someone in their supervision verbally or in writing that they are experiencing pain while working, leads to underreporting and exposure to ergonomic hazards, especially for employees who experience disabilities, chronic illness, and systemic oppression or discrimination within the medical system.
There are protected groups of individuals who have mistrust in the medical community, due to historical oppression and discrimination while seeking care, including but not limited to: members of the BIPOC community, LGBTQ+ community, those who are part of the neurodivergent spectrum, women, and people with chronic illness or disabilities. Under these internal policies of not providing active assistance when an employee expresses a workplace concern of pain or injury, not notifying them of their rights to a safe working environment free from hazards and directing them to Worker’s Compensation, and then requiring additional medical documentation in order to provide a safe working environment, these practices place these protected groups systematically at risk for injury and disability.
As a member of the University it is important to speak out for our fellow members and be actively working to question and updated policies and procedures university-wide which put the health and safety of individuals who experience systemic oppression at risk, as no inaction does a disservice to the whole ASU community, not just those who are experiencing the inequity.