Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and ergonomics share the goal of modifying work environments to empower healthier, safer, and more efficient work for all workers, regardless of demographic characteristics. However, a recent report from the National Safety Council (NSC) shows that certain sociodemographic groups face disproportionately greater occupational hazards and risks for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, many demographic groups have significantly higher representation in high-risk occupations compared to White and more educated workers.

“Many demographic groups have significantly higher representation in high-risk occupations, with 21% of males, 24% of Hispanics, 21% of non-Hispanic Black, 20% of American Indians/Alaska Natives, 22% of foreign-born workers and 26% of workers with no more than a high school education being employed in high risk
occupations,” the report noted. “This is in comparison to 13% of White workers and 9% of workers with higher than a high school level of education seen in these same high-risk occupations.”

This trend is further supported by research showing that workers of color face more work-related injuries and illnesses, despite the fact that most workers’ compensation systems do not gather data on race and ethnicity, the NSC report noted.

An example of these disparities can be found in Washington state’s workers’ compensation claims between 2013 and 2017, the NSC said.

“Based on Washington state’s workers’ compensation claims between 2013–2017, Black workers consistently had the highest claim rates across all industry and occupational sectors,” according to the report. “Similarly, Hispanic claimants surpassed White and Asian/Pacific Islander claimants in most industry and occupational sectors,” the report said.

Industries that typically employ more women, such as health care, social assistance, educational services, cleaning and housekeeping, consistently have high rates of MSDs. Work in these industries often involves repetitive movements, awkward positions, static postures, time pressure and high speeds, according to the report.

Hazards in these industries where women are overrepresented have been historically under-recognized or understudied compared to more “visibly dangerous” male-dominated industries like mining and construction, according to the report.

More labor-intensive work with high demands and fast paces can be especially difficult for older workers.

“Based on older workers’ responses to the American Working Conditions Survey, Morrissey (2023) reported that older workers ages 50-70 experience difficult working conditions that could lead to MSDs, with 50% engaged in physically-demanding occupations, 54% exposed to unhealthy or hazardous work conditions, 46% in high-pressure jobs and 54% in challenging work schedules,” per the report.

Aging workers may have a harder time recovering from an injury, with the median duration of absence from work due to injury increasing consistently with age, he report added.

Latino immigrants, Black male workers, and migrant workers are more likely to be employed in dangerous jobs and industries, leading to higher rates of injury and illness, including MSDs. Migrant workers also face greater exposure to physical hazards and poor psychosocial working conditions compared to non-migrant workers.

DEI Factors in MSD Prevention

To ensure a safe and equitable workplace for all employees — regardless of their diverse backgrounds — it is crucial for employers to understand and address DEI concerns in relation to MSD risk and prevention, while also being actively involved in the process of MSD prevention.

To achieve this, the report encourages employers to not only foster an inclusive and positive safety culture, but to also ensure a comfortable environment for employee feedback when it comes to implementing MSD solutions.

“Specifically, organizations need to create an environment that is conducive to providing feedback on the design of workspaces for continuous improvement, possibly through user surveys or focus groups to understand the unique ergonomic challenges of employees from various backgrounds,” according to the report.

Employee involvement and feedback are also imperative to implementing MSD solutions that are equitable and
inclusive, the report added.

“Language barriers can also affect inclusion in the workplace and impact MSD outcomes,” the report noted. “Managers often rely on the best English speaker among
non-native-speaking employees to translate, risking miscommunication.”

To access the full report, visit the National Safety Council’s website. &

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