Have you ever pushed yourself TOO hard at work, beyond either your physical or mental capabilities? If so, you may be overexerting yourself, which can be counterproductive and unsafe leading to serious injuries, such as:

  • strains
  • sprains
  • fractures
  • overuse or repetitive strain injuries (carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow)
  • physical and/or mental fatigue

Yes, overexertion can be either physical or mental. Mental overexertion is often referred to as “burnout” and can lead to mental fatigue and poor performance at work.

When Does Overexertion Occur?

Overexertion in the workplace is related to certain activities and/or motions, with the most common being:

Repetitive movements, often associated with working on an assembly line, typing or writing and using a computer mouse, puts a strain on your body.

Using an improper technique or doing an activity wrong stresses your muscles, bones, joints, and connective tissue. This might include lifting incorrectly, sitting with poor posture or standing in an awkward position.

Abrupt movements that can lead to injuries include twisting, bending, pushing, pulling, and reaching.

Continuously doing an activity without regular breaks can lead to fatigue.

Working in extreme temperatures means your body works extra hard to maintain its normal temperature. Overexertion can happen when doing outdoor manual labor.

However, overexertion is not limited to those with physically demanding jobs. Workers that sit at a computer for 8 hours or more are at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, neck pain, backaches, and eyestrain.

Tasks that are not ergonomically designed puts workers at risk for overexertion injuries such as a muscle strain in the back, shoulders, or abdomen.

Groups at the highest risk of overexertion injuries include:

  • transportation and material moving
  • installation, maintenance, and repair
  • service occupations
  • Healthcare practitioners and technical
  • construction and extraction

Preventive Measures

If your job requires lots of heavy lifting or repetitive movements, preventive measures might entail:

  • Use of proper techniques and form; for instance, lift heavy objects with your legs, not your back, bend your knees before lifting any heavy items and keep the items tucked close to your body.
  • Take breaks every 30 minutes, especially if you usually stay in the same position for several hours. Frequent breaks stop you from pushing yourself beyond your limits.
  • Stretch and do exercises to warm up the joint muscles like wrist exercises.
  • Use personal protective equipment. Use kneepads when kneeling or padded gloves when lifting to reduce contact stress over long periods of time.
  • Use stools and anti-fatigue matting at work stations for tasks with prolonged standing.
  • Ensure you have an ergonomically designed workplace.
  • Employ engineering controls, i.e., reduce or eliminate tasks such as lifting.
  • Use material handling devices such as carts or hand trucks to move heavy items.
  • Avoid twisting the body, rotate it instead. Twisting can cause muscle strains.
  • Use tools with easy-to-use handles or grips and have vibration-reducing features.
  • Education is one of the most effective preventative strategies with regards to mental overexertion.
  • Try relaxation techniques when feeling mentally fatigued.

Although OSHA does not have a specific standard that addresses ergonomics, employers who expose their workers to overexertion hazards can be cited under the General Duty Clause. This requires employers to provide a working environment free of recognized serious hazards.

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