Saturday, February 18, 2017

Deaths, property damage, mudslides, sinkholes and downed trees caused by the latest storm in Southern California

Southern California bore the brunt of the latest storm to blast into the western United States as the region is now cleaning up from flooding, mudslides, sinkholes and downed trees.

This storm, one of the biggest storms in years to target the region, bombarded Southern California with heavy rain and gusty winds on Friday into Friday night.

Widespread rainfall amounts in excess of 3 inches were measured in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

"The airport at Santa Barbara measured 4.16 inches alone on Friday, shattering the day's previous rainfall record of 2.08 inches from 1980," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said. "Friday was also Santa Barbara's wettest day since March 20, 2011."

Downtown Los Angeles received slightly more than 2 inches of rain from the storm, guaranteeing the city will experience its first above-normal winter rainfall (December to February) since the winter spanning 2010-2011.

The storm caused at least two fatalities after a large tree brought down power lines in Sherman Oaks, California, electrocuting a 55-year-old man. Additionally, one driver drowned in his car after flash flooding suddenly overtook the roadway.

A man struggles against gusty wind and heavy rain as he walks along a pier Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, in Huntington Beach, Calif. A major Pacific storm has unleashed downpours and fierce gusts on Southern California, triggering flash flood warnings and other problems. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Cars trying to make it through the flood waters in Long Beach, California. (Instagram/derek_drizzle)

Multiple vehicles sit idly as flood waters hinder motorists from getting to their destination. (Instagram/actress_jenniferannescott)

A tree fell over, crushing a car in Los Angeles. No injuries were reported. (Photo/Twitter user @navajoBehr)

In this image released by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a large eucalyptus tree toppled onto carport damaging vehicles in Goleta, Calif., Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. A powerful Pacific storm blew into southern and central California on Friday, unleashing wind-driven heavy rains that forecasters said could become the strongest in years if not decades. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

Downed trees across the region caused many travel delays and power outages. (Instagran/mlmracing)

Pacific Coast Highway is reduced to one lane from three at the California Incline due to mud and debris being washed down from the bluffs in Santa Monica, Calif., as a powerful storm moves into Southern California Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. The saturated state faces a new round of wet weather that could trigger flooding and debris flows. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)


New Jersey’s aging infrastructure can waste up to 30 percent of drinking water before it’s even delivered to customers

On the Water Front: Finding the Leaks, Getting the Lead Out 

Tom Johnson | February 14, 2017
New Jersey’s aging infrastructure can waste up to 30 percent of drinking water before it’s even delivered to customers
In a bid to avoid costly water losses, a legislative committee yesterday adopted a bill that would order water companies to conduct audits of their own systems to see how much water is wasted before it ever gets to customers.

The legislation (A-4415), modeled after similar measures in place in other states, is designed to address the well-known problem of leaks in aging water infrastructure that allow up to 30 percent of drinking water to be lost before it gets to consumers.

In another measure related to drinking water, the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee approved a bill (A-4139) to require healthcare facilities to test for and remove lead in drinking water found in their systems.

The legislation is part of a series of bills aimed at addressing problems with the quality of drinking water, ranging from lead-tainted supplies in schools and other facilities to toxic contaminants in public water-supply systems and private wells.

At the same time, a legislative task force is conducting hearings on the aging drinking-water infrastructure in New Jersey, much of its 100 years or older and prone to leaks and major water-main breaks. The federal government has projected the state needs to spend $8 billion to overhaul the drinking-water infrastructure.

Among the biggest problems are undetected leaks in older mains that are losing an estimated 130 million gallons of water a day, according to one recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Larry Levin, a water attorney for the NRDC, told the committee that water audits could be used to reduce water losses, and save consumers money. More than 50 million gallons of water daily could be recovered with better accounting, at an estimated savings of $10 million.

“Considerable savings can be garnered by doing these audits,’’ said George Kunkel, a former executive with the Philadelphia Water Department and an author of the study.

“The problem here (New Jersey) is as great as elsewhere given the age of the water system,’’ Levine added.

“It’s astounding,’’ agreed Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), a member of the legislative task force studying drinking water, referring to estimated water losses. “Something needs to be done. All it takes is money.’’

But Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that is precisely the problem with the bill. It will identify and confirm a well-recognized problem, but it does not spell out how to find the money to fix the leaks. “This bill kicks the problem down the road,’’ he said. 


ASSEMBLY, No. 4139




Sponsored by:

Assemblyman DANIEL R. BENSON

District 14 (Mercer and Middlesex)


District 15 (Hunterdon and Mercer)

Assemblyman HERB CONAWAY, JR.

District 7 (Burlington)


Requires health care facilities to test for and remediate lead in drinking water, and disclose test results.


As introduced.

An Act concerning lead in drinking water at health care facilities and supplementing Title 26 of the Revised Statutes.

Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

1. a. The owner or operator of a health care facility shall undertake periodic testing of each drinking water outlet in the health care facility for the presence of lead. Each test for lead shall be conducted by a laboratory certified for this purpose by the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, in accordance with the sampling and testing methods specified by the commissioner. The initial tests for lead shall be conducted no later than 90 days after the effective date of this act, and subsequent testing shall be conducted every five years thereafter, unless the commissioner determines, on a case-by-case basis, that a greater or lesser frequency of testing is necessary or sufficient to ensure public health.

b. If testing conducted pursuant to subsection a. of this section reveals an elevated lead level at a drinking water outlet, the health care facility shall immediately shut or close off access to that drinking water outlet and take appropriate remedial measures to ensure that patients, staff, and visitors to the health care facility are not exposed to drinking water with an elevated lead level and have access to clean and safe drinking water at the facility. Such remedial measures may include, but need not be limited to: permanently shutting or closing off access to the drinking water outlet; providing an alternative source of water; manual or automatic flushing of the drinking water outlet; installing and maintaining a filter at the drinking water outlet; and repairing and replacing the drinking water outlet, plumbing, or service line contributing to the elevated lead level.

c. Each health care facility shall: (1) submit to the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health, as soon as practicable, information on testing activities conducted pursuant to subsection a. of this section, including, but not limited to, the date the testing was completed, the location and type of each drinking water outlet tested, the complete results of each test, and any measures being taken pursuant to subsection b. of this section to remediate a drinking water outlet found to have an elevated lead level; (2) maintain copies of the information submitted pursuant to this subsection in a suitable location for inspection by the public and on the health care facility’s Internet website, if applicable; and (3) post a summary of the test results and information on the availability of the complete test results for public inspection, in the area of each major entrance and in each admitting room in the health care facility.

d. Notwithstanding the provisions of the “Administrative Procedure Act,” P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), to the contrary, the Department of Environmental Protection, in consultation with the Department of Health, may adopt, after notice, interim rules and regulations necessary to implement the provisions of this act, including, but not limited to, sampling and testing methods. The rules and regulations shall be effective as regulations immediately upon filing with the Office of Administrative Law and shall be effective for a period not to exceed 18 months, and may, thereafter, be amended, adopted, or readopted by the department in accordance with the provisions of the “Administrative Procedure Act.”

e. As used in this section:

“Commissioner” means the Commissioner of Environmental Protection.

“Drinking water outlet” means any water fountain, faucet, or tap regularly used for drinking or food preparation, including ice-making and hot drink machines.

“Elevated lead level” means a lead concentration in drinking water that exceeds the standard therefor established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Environmental Protection, whichever is more stringent.

“Health care facility” means the same as that term is defined in section 2 of P.L.1971, c.136 (C.26:2H-2).

2. This act shall take effect immediately.


This bill would require health care facilities to test for and remediate lead in drinking water, and disclose the test results.

Specifically, under the bill, the owner or operator of a health care facility would be required to undertake periodic testing of each drinking water outlet in the facility for the presence of lead. Each test for lead would be conducted by a laboratory certified for this purpose by the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, in accordance with the sampling and testing methods specified by the commissioner. The initial tests would be conducted no later than 90 days after the effective date of the bill, and subsequent testing would be conducted every five years thereafter, unless the commissioner determines, on a case-by-case basis, that a greater or lesser frequency of testing is necessary or sufficient.

Under the bill, if testing reveals an elevated lead level at a drinking water outlet, the health care facility would be required to immediately shut or close off access to that outlet and take appropriate remedial measures to ensure that patients, staff, and visitors to the health care facility are not exposed to drinking water with an elevated lead level and have access to clean and safe drinking water at the facility. Each health care facility would be required to submit to the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health information on its testing activities, maintain copies of that information in a suitable location and on its Internet website, if applicable, and post a summary of the test results and information on the availability of the complete test results in the area of each major entrance and in each admitting room in the health care facility.

A bill in New Jersey's Legislature would require water companies to determine how much water is lost because of leaks and breaks in aging pipes every year.

A bill advancing in New Jersey's Legislature would require water companies to determine how much water is lost because of leaks and breaks in aging pipes every year.

Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Larry Levin told an Assembly committee Tuesday such audits can guide efforts to control water loss.

"There are 130 million gallons of treated drinking water we estimate lost each day across the state," he said. "And, of that, about 50 million gallons per day valued at $10 million a year are likely to be cost effective for utilities to reduce to solve that loss."

Similar measures in other states have made a difference, said George Kunkel, an independent consultant and former executive with the Philadelphia Water Department.

"In my time in Philadelphia, where we pioneered these approaches for over 20 years, there were considerable savings garnered by doing the audit and using the data from the audit to guide and structure loss control programs," he said.

New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel said he favors a more aggressive approach that would require suppliers to fix problems where the biggest water losses are occurring.

"I think it needs to be tied to actually a planning process and then a funding mechanism, either a set-aside by the utilities or others, to start moving that forward," Tittel said.

Assemblyman John McKeon, a member of the legislative task force that's studying the state's drinking water infrastructure, said the water loss from aging pipes is astounding.

"Ten to 15 percent of leakage you expect because they're a pressured system. That's a good thing, because it keeps the bad stuff from leaching in if it's pressurized," said McKeon, D-Bergen. "But we're at 30 percent and really something has to be done. It is time for action. All it takes is money."

Advocates estimate about $8 billion in water system improvements are needed in the state over the next 20 years. 


Renewing Aged Water Infrastructure in New Jersey, One Street at a Time 

Jon Hurdle | December 21, 2016 

Antiquated leak-prone systems are being upgraded in some parts of the state, but water industry advocates argue that much more needs to be done

Utility workers prepare to install a new water main along Horace Avenue, Palmyra.

On Horace Avenue, a quiet suburban street in Palmyra, workers wearing hard hats and yellow safety vests were knee deep in a trench running between Fourth and Fifth Streets, using shovels to dig the sandy soil away from pipes connecting water and gas mains to individual houses.

On a freezing December morning, the crew from New Jersey American Water was preparing the street for a new water main to replace one that has served the Burlington County town since the Riverton-Palmyra Water Company, the town’s original water purveyor, was founded in about 1889.

The old system, consisting mostly of cement pipe wrapped in sheet metal, has become increasingly leak-prone as the material ages, leading to 15-20 water-main breaks a year in the approximately 6,000 feet of pipe that are being replaced on Horace Avenue and surrounding streets.

With an investment of some $1.15 million, the company is replacing the old brittle pipes with new eight-inch diameter iron pipes that will improve service and cut maintenance costs. The new system is being laid at a rate of 200 to 300 feet a day, and is parallel to the old line which will be shut off and left in the ground when the new system becomes operational.
A new pipeline awaits connection in a trench along Horace Avenue, Palmyra.

As the old Palmyra system gets replaced — a process that is expected to take eight to 10 weeks — the rate of breaks has dropped to only two this year, reflecting the remaining pipes in the old system.

The Palmyra project is just one example of the renewal of aging water infrastructure statewide, a process that is taking place in some locations but which needs to happen in many more, according to water industry advocates.

They argue that a long-term lack of investment in many water systems that originated in the 19th century has led to an antiquated system that is increasingly leak-prone, susceptible to water-quality problems, and expensive to maintain. According to Jersey Water Works, a multi-stakeholder coalition dedicated to overhauling the state’s creaking water infrastructure, the tab for upgrading the whole system would be some $40 billion.

The statewide initiative has won the support of a wide range of public and private entities, and replacement operations like that in Palmyra aim to work with local government.

“We try really hard to coordinate with municipalities,” said Carmen Tierno, senior director of operations for New Jersey American Water’s southwest region. “Sometimes the town might want to do something with the sewer or the gas company might be doing something, so it makes sense if we work together on these kinds of underground investments.”

The cooperative approach saves money for the water company. Edward Opczynski III, construction supervisor for the Palmyra project, said he bases his decision on which stretches of pipeline to replace partly on whether a local authority is already planning to repave a street where antiquated pipeline is buried.

About half of his projects take place in locations where repaving is scheduled, and where there is a high level of leakage, problems with water quality, or simply old pipe that can be expected to fail soon. In those cases, the water company will only pave the trench where the new pipe has been installed, leaving the paving of the rest of the street to the local authority, and saving money for other water projects, Opczysnki said.

“We can put more pipe in the ground because we don’t have to pave as much,” he said. “We can make our capital budget go farther.”

New Jersey American Water, one of the state’s biggest water utilities, says that some 15 percent of its pipes, covering 1,300 miles statewide, are between 100 and 140 years old, and nearing the end of their useful lives.

The old cement pipes such as those beneath Horace Avenue resist internal corrosion or buildup but are not as strong as cast iron, and are harder to repair. The result has been frequent water-main breaks, often requiring day-long repair operations, during which customers would have dirty water while the company flushed out the main.

The new pipelines are not only more reliable but provide better fire protection because their larger diameter provides a higher volume of water.

Still, not all old pipelines need to be replaced, Tierno said. Some cast-iron pipe, for example, is still structurally sound, and its performance can be improved by cleaning out material that has built up inside the pipe over the years, and then re-lining it to prevent that process happening again.

Targeted repairs to the Palmyra system began decades ago but progress was slow because of a limited capital budget and the large scale of the needed repairs to the old lines — known to maintenance crews as “stovepipe” because of their visual similarity to the pipe used to vent a stove or furnace.

The pace of replacement stepped up with the launch in 2013 of the Distribution System Improvement Charge (DSIC), a mechanism that imposes a surcharge on ratepayers of water systems that are regulated by the Board of Public Utilities to pay for infrastructure improvements. The system allows a water company a quicker return on its investment than under the previous system, increasing its incentive to make the improvements.

Before the DSIC began, a utility would typically initiate a new rate case with the BPU every two to three years, and would not get a return on its capital until that process was complete, Tierno said.

“The DSIC program really changed the landscape in the speed of return on that investment,” he said. “Whereas before you might have investment capital sitting there for two or three years before your rate reflected that, now we can file every six months and get an adjustment made to our tariff.”

DSIC rates for New Jersey American Water customers, effective December 1 this year, range from $1.90 a month for a 5/8-inch meter — the size of most residential meters — to $380.76 a month for a large customer with a 16-inch meter.

The surcharges apply statewide, reflecting a renewal program that is taking place for the company’s 650,000 customers in 18 counties, Tierno said.

Helped by the DSIC mechanism, the company has replaced about 16 miles of old pipe in Palmyra, Riverton, and Cinnaminson since 2012 at a cost of $15.3 million. There will be only about a mile of the old system left when it completes the Horace Avenue-Leconey Avenue project in early 2017, the officials said.

Statewide, the company said it will make some $300 million in infrastructure investment approved under DSIC by the end of 2016. The company’s total capital budget for 2016 is about $350 million.

While BPU-regulated utilities like New Jersey American Water are addressing the state’s water infrastructure shortcomings, municipally owned systems have a bigger challenge to raise the funds they need because their elected officials face taxpayer resistance to higher water charges, analysts say.

That may account for a difference between the dire warnings issued by Jersey Water Works and the relatively upbeat outlook by investor-owned utilities like New Jersey American Water whose replacement program is well underway.

Tierno argued that there’s a disparity between the level of investment by BPU-regulated utilities and that by municipal systems. “Municipalities are challenged to invest because their rates are set almost politically,” he said. “The mayor, the council have to get elected.”

Even if the regulated utilities are investing more than the municipal systems, there is no doubt that many parts of the state’s infrastructure are still in dire need of replacement, said Chris Sturm, managing director for Policy and Water at New Jersey Future.

“We hear anecdotally all the time that there are pipes being held in place by the dirt around them, that pipe material is so old that it might be wood, that 20, 30, 40 percent of treated water leaks out of the pipe,” she said.

Investor-owned utilities generally do a better job of repairing or replacing old water infrastructure but that doesn’t mean that public entities should not own water systems, Sturm argued. “There are excellent publicly owned water and sewer systems but it requires real leadership to make the right investment,” she said, arguing that municipal systems should be required to assess the condition of their systems and report that information to the public.

But while municipal systems may be lagging, there is a growing recognition that the time has come to make the long-needed upgrade to the state’s water system, said Tierno of New Jersey American Water.

“There has been a public as well as a regulatory recognition that infrastructure issues are upon us,” he said.

String of New Jersey Wood-Frame Apartment Fires Prompts Call for Examination of State Building Codes

String of New Jersey Wood-Frame Apartment Fires Prompts Call for Examination of State Building Codes 

Source: National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) Feb 13, 2017

On Saturday, February 4, a six-alarm fire in Maplewood, New Jersey destroyed part of an apartment complex under construction, reigniting the debate over the use of lightweight, wood-framing.

The fire marks a troubling recent history for wood-framed construction in New Jersey. In January 2015, a fire destroyed a 240-unit apartment building in Edgewater, burning for seven hours and leaving 500 people homeless. Ironically, the same apartment complex burned down 15 years prior, while it was still under construction using the same wood-frame construction methods. The two fires are considered the worst in Bergen County’s history.

“These fires should cause state lawmakers and members of the building code community to pause and consider the consequences when analyzing regulations and legislation that permits the use of vulnerable construction methods,” says Kevin Lawlor, a spokesperson for Build with Strength. “Fortunately, no one was killed in these fires, but as long as the regulatory environment authorizes this type of development, the threat will remain, it’s up to state lawmakers to protect their constituents.”

The Edgewater Zoning Board recently approved AvalonBay to rebuild the twice-destroyed Edgewater Apartment complex – again using the same lightweight wood-frame construction – although this time with added fire safety features beyond the state building code minimum, including an extensive fire sprinkler system, masonry firewalls, and storage space for fire ladders.

According to reports, the Maplewood building, also an AvalonBay project, was built using a higher fire safety standard than what was featured at the 2015 Edgewater site, including additional sprinklers. It remains unclear whether the Maplewood complex was constructed at the same standard as the Edgewater complex currently under development.

“The Edgewater and Maplewood fires should serve as a catalyst for change to strengthen our building codes and fire prevention efforts. We can’t wait for another tragedy where lives may be lost,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the New Jersey Fire Safety Commission.

Assemblyman Wisniewski has introduced legislation seeking to amend the New Jersey state construction code for fire safety reasons.

A September 2016 poll of registered New Jersey voters found respondents were very supportive of the state making changes to construction codes in the wake of the 2015 Edgewater fire. According to the poll, ninety-five percent are supportive of changes to construction codes.

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly support legislative changes to make buildings in the state more resistant to fires and natural disasters. This includes support for a requirement for concrete and steel frames for buildings over three stories high, as well as proposed legislation that would place limits on construction with wood. In addition to the poll, a new video and infographic examining the Edgewater fire and the reaction from the community was released.

South Jersey Gas has begun a large infrastructure project to replace aging gas mains

Large gas main replacement project begun in Stone Harbor

STONE HARBOR, NJ — South Jersey Gas will begin a large infrastructure project early next week to replace aging gas mains, the borough said.

The work is expected to start Monday, weather permitting. South Jersey Gas said this is part of its Accelerated Infrastructure Replacement Program to replace thousands of feet of bare steel mains in an effort to increase safety and reliability.

South Jersey Gas spokeswoman Lauren Hurtt said the project is the first of two phases and is a total of about 32,000 feet of main. She did not disclose the cost of the project.

Plans for the second phase, set to begin in September, are being finalized, she said.

According to project details, plastic natural gas mains will be installed along Berkley Road, Sunset Drive, Corinthian Drive, Sunrise Drive, Weber Court, and from 111th to 98th avenues.

Work will begin 8 a.m. and end at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, maintaining access for residents and property owners, according to project details.

Gas service may be interrupted for about eight hours, and some homes may need new gas meters, depending on the location, age and condition, according to South Jersey Gas.

Final restorations and paving are anticipated to be completed by June.

In late January, South Jersey Gas filed for a $75 million rate increase with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities .

The utility said the increase is necessary to pay for the infrastructure upgrades.

The company said that, since its last base rate case, it has invested approximately $518 million in system improvements not currently reflected in base rates.

In manufacturing and other industries where lifting is part of the job, disorders that affect the muscles and bones are a common problem.

Study Examines Relationship Between Lifting and Low Back Pain

In manufacturing and other industries where lifting is part of the job, disorders that affect the muscles and bones are a common problem. In fact, musculoskeletal disorders cause one-third of work-related injuries resulting in missed workdays, costing about $45 to $54 billion annually in lost productivity and treatment, according to estimates from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.

At the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), scientists study the causes and prevention of these prevalent disorders, including low back pain. Unlike some exposures, however, exposures related to low back pain may be more difficult to measure. In a study published in the journal Safety and Health at Work, NIOSH scientists adapted risk assessment methods typically used in chemical risk assessment to assess workers’ accounts and the revised NIOSH Lifting Equation to identify specific factors related to low back pain among a group of manufacturing workers. This equation calculates a composite lifting index, which is the ratio of the load lifted to the recommended weight limit for multiple lifting tasks performed consecutively.

The study participants included 138 manufacturing workers. Most were male, their average age was 38 years, and all reported that they were free of low back pain at the beginning of the study. Follow-up was 1 year. Statistical analysis showed that workers in this study who reported more lifts per work shift were more likely to report instances of low back pain than other workers. 

Factors associated with fewer instances of self-reported low back pain in this study were non-work-related activities involving bending and twisting of the back, more overtime-work hours, and more years of overall employment. It is important to note that this study only identifies a relationship and does not prove that more lifts per work shift cause low back pain. 

Similarly, it does not prove that bending and twisting of the back and the other factors examined were unrelated to low back pain. Further development of these risk assessment methods and research is necessary to confirm the study’s results and their possible application to identifying the causes of other work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

More information is available:
Non-chemical Risk Assessment for Lifting and Low Back Pain Based on Bayesian Threshold Models
NIOSH Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders
NIOSH Education and Information Division


Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) are a common and costly problem for people and companies across the United States.
  • MSDs are the single largest category of workplace injuries and are responsible for almost 30% of all worker’s compensation costs. (source: BLS)
  • U.S. companies spent 50 billion dollars on direct costs of MSDs in 2011. (source: CDC)
  • Indirect costs can be up to five times the direct costs of MSDs. (source: OSHA)
  • The average MSD comes with a direct cost of almost $15,000. (source: BLS)
The economic and human costs of MSDs are unnecessary. Musculoskeletal disorders are preventable.
To lay the foundation for an MSD prevention strategy, it’s important to understand what MSDs are and what causes them. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to allocate your time, attention and resources most effectively to prevent MSDs.

Definition of Musculoskeletal Disorder

So what is a musculoskeletal disorder?
It’s simple.
Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.).
Common MSDs include:
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Tendonitis
  • Muscle / Tendon strain
  • Ligament Sprain
  • Tension Neck Syndrome
  • Thoracic Outlet Compression
  • Rotator Cuff Tendonitis
  • Epicondylitis
  • Radial Tunnel Syndrome
  • Digital Neuritis
  • Trigger Finger / Thumb
  • DeQuervain’s Syndrome
  • Mechanical Back Syndrome
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Ruptured / Herniated Disc,
  • and many more.
We use the term “musculoskeletal disorder” because it accurately describes the problem.
Other common names for MSDs are “repetitive motion injury”, “repetitive stress injury”, “overuse injury” and many more. The problem with using that kind of terminology is that it implicates a singular cause for damage to the musculoskeletal system – repetition and stress. This is limiting because more and more research is pointing to multiple causative risk factors leading to MSDs.
Interested in learning how to prevent common and costly MSDs? Get instant access to our free MSD Prevention 101 training course. Click here to sign up today.

The Cause of Musculoskeletal Disorders – Exposure to Risk Factors

When a worker is exposed to MSD risk factors, they begin to fatigue. When fatigue outruns their body’s recovery system, they develop a musculoskeletal imbalance. Over time, as fatigue continues to outrun recovery and the musculoskeletal imbalance persists, a musculoskeletal disorder develops.
These risk factors can be broken up into two categories: work-related (ergonomic) risk factors and individual-related risk factors.
Development of Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD)
So the root cause of MSDs is exposure to MSD risk factors – both work-related risk factors and individual-related risk factors.

Work-related Risk Factors

Workplace design plays a crucial role in the development of an MSD.
When a worker is asked to do work that is outside his body’s capabilities and limitations, he is being asked to put his musculoskeletal system at risk. In these situations, an objective evaluation of the workstation design tells us the worker’s recovery system will not be able to keep up with the fatigue that will be caused by performing the job. The evaluation will tell us that ergonomic risk factors are present, the worker is at risk of developing a musculoskeletal imbalance and a musculoskeletal disorder is an imminent reality.
There are three primary ergonomic risk factors.
  • High task repetition. Many work tasks and cycles are repetitive in nature, and are frequently controlled by hourly or daily production targets and work processes. High task repetition, when combined with other risks factors such high force and/or awkward postures, can contribute to the formation of MSD. A job is considered highly repetitive if the cycle time is 30 seconds or less.
  • Forceful exertions. Many work tasks require high force loads on the human body. Muscle effort increases in response to high force requirements, increasing associated fatigue which can lead to MSD.
  • Repetitive or sustained awkward postures. Awkward postures place excessive force on joints and overload the muscles and tendons around the effected joint. Joints of the body are most efficient when they operate closest to the mid-range motion of the joint. Risk of MSD is increased when joints are worked outside of this mid-range repetitively or for sustained periods of time without adequate recovery time.
Exposure to these workplace risk factors puts workers at a higher level of MSD risk. It’s common sense: high task repetition, forceful exertions and repetitive/sustained awkward postures fatigue the worker’s body beyond their ability to recover, leading to a musculoskeletal imbalance and eventually an MSD.

Evidence Base of Work-Related Risk Factors:

Musculoskeletal Disorders and Workplace Factors NIOSH / U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
The conclusion of this 590 page report is simple and straightforward:
“A substantial body of credible epidemiologic research provides strong evidence of an association between MSDs and certain work-related physical factors when there are high levels of exposure and especially in combination with exposure to more than one physical factor (e.g., repetitive lifting of heavy objects in extreme or awkward postures [Table 1]).
The strength of the associations reported in the various studies for specific risk factors after adjustments for other factors varies from modest to strong. The largest increases in risk are generally observed in studies with a wide range of exposure conditions and careful observation or measurement of exposures.”
Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders: The Epidemiologic Evidence and the Debate Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology
“Thus there is an international near-consensus that musculoskeletal disorders are causally related to occupational ergonomic stressors, such as repetitive and stereotyped motions, forceful exertions, non-neutral postures, vibration, and combinations of these exposures.”
Additional reading:

Individual-related Risk Factors

Human beings are multi-dimensional. Limiting ourselves to a singular cause of MSDs will limit our ability to create a prevention strategy that addresses the multi-dimensional worker.
We need to address both workplace risk factors and individual risk factors.
Individual risk factors include:
  • Poor work practices. Workers who use poor work practices, body mechanics and lifting techniques are introducing unnecessary risk factors that can contribute to MSDs. These poor practices create unnecessary stress on their bodies that increases fatigue and decreases their body’s ability to properly recover.
  • Poor overall health habits. Workers who smoke, drink excessively, are obese, or exhibit numerous other poor health habits are putting themselves at risk for not only musculoskeletal disorders, but also for other chronic diseases that will shorten their life and health span.
  • Poor rest and recovery. MSDs develop when fatigue outruns the workers recovery system, causing a musculoskeletal imbalance. Workers who do not get adequate rest and recovery put themselves at higher risk.
  • Poor nutrition, fitness and hydration. For a country as developed as the United States, an alarming number of people are malnourished, dehydrated and at such a poor level of physical fitness that climbing one flight of stairs puts many people out of breath. Workers who do not take care of their bodies are putting themselves at a higher risk of developing musculoskeletal and chronic health problems.
Exposure to these individual risk factors puts workers at a higher level of MSD risk. Just like workplace risk factors, individual risk factors are common sense:  when a worker uses poor work practice, has bad health habits, doesn’t get adequate rest and recovery and doesn’t take care of their bodies with a good nutrition and fitness regimen, they are at greater risk for fatigue to outrun their recovery system. Having a poor overall health profile puts them at greater risk of developing a musculoskeletal imbalance and eventually an MSD.

Not convinced? Here is what the scientific literature has to say.

Evidence Base of Individual-related Risk Factors:

NIOSH Total Worker Health NIOSH
NIOSH supports a multi-dimensional view of workers, which they call “Total Worker Health”. This strategy integrates health protection with health promotion because they recognize that, “emerging evidence recognizes that both work-related factors and health factors beyond the workplace jointly contribute to many health and safety problems that confront today’s workers and their families.”

Total Worker Health is a strategy integrating occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being.”
Here is a quote from the NIOSH Total Worker Health Seminal Research Papers (2012):
“Today, emerging evidence recognizes that both work-related factors and health factors beyond the workplace jointly contribute to many health and safety problems that confront today’s workers and their families. Traditionally, workplace health and safety programs have been compartmentalized. Health protection programs have focused squarely on safety, reducing worker exposures to risk factors arising in the work environment itself. And most workplace health promotion programs have focused exclusively on lifestyle factors off-the-job that place workers at risk. A growing body of science supports the effectiveness of combining these efforts through workplace interventions that integrate health protection and health promotion programs.”
Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders: Prevention report European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
“Epidemiological studies have shown that some personal risk factors for MSDs such as smoking, being overweight, or in poor physical shape are the same factors as those relating to poor general health. Therefore general health promotion at the workplace might be one option to prevent MSDs.”
“Practice shows that the collaboration of people with expertise in different areas (e.g. engineering, psychology, human relations) is advantageous as this allows MSD-related issues to be approached in a global way. However, the involvement and participation of all employees and their representatives is crucial to success in such a holistic approach and, moreover, in creating a culture where ergonomics and the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders is embedded in every part of the process.”
Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders Assessment and Prevention InTech
“The recognition of personal risk factors can be useful in providing training, administrative controls, and awareness.  Personal or individual risk factors can impact the likelihood for occurrence of a WMSD (McCauley-Bell & Badiru, 1996a; McCauley-Bell & Badiru, 1996b). These factors vary depending on the study but may include age, gender, smoking, physical activity, strength, anthropometry and previous WMSD, and degenerative joint diseases (McCauley Bush, 2011).” …
Besides risk factors related to work other risk factors contribute to its development, namely factors intrinsic to the worker and factors unrelated to work. A risk factor is any source or situation with the potential to cause injury or lead to the development of a disease. The variety and complexity of the factors that contribute to the appearance of these disorders explains the difficulties often encountered, to determine the best suited ergonomic intervention to be accomplished in a given workplace, to control them. Moreover, despite all the available knowledge some uncertainty remains about the level of exposure to risk factors that triggers WMSD. In addition there is significant variability of individual response to the risk factors exposure. The literature review and epidemiological studies have shown that in the genesis of the WMSD three sets of risk factors can be considered (Bernard, 1997; Buckle & Devereux, 1999; Nunes, 2009a):  Physical factors – e.g., sustained or awkward postures, repetition of the same movements, forceful exertions, hand-arm vibration, all-body vibration, mechanical compression, and cold;  Psychosocial factors – e.g., work pace, autonomy, monotony, work/rest cycle, task demands, social support from colleagues and management and job uncertainty;  Individual factors – e.g., age, gender, professional activities, sport activities, domestic activities, recreational activities, alcohol/tobacco consumption and, previous WMSD.”
Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders: The Epidemiologic Evidence and the Debate Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology
“As with most chronic diseases, MSDs have multiple risk factors, both occupational and non-occupational. In addition to work demands, other aspects of daily life, such as sports and housework, may present physical stresses to the musculoskeletal tissues. The musculoskeletal and peripheral nerve tissues are affected by systemic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, and diabetes. Risk varies by age, gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity. Other suspected risk factors include obesity, smoking, muscle strength and other aspects of work capacity.”


Identify Problems

An important part of the ergonomic process is a periodic review of the facility, specific workstation designs and work practices, and the overall production process, from an ergonomics perspective. This includes identifying existing problems, which can be obtained from reviewing the company's OSHA 300 injury and illness logs, 301 reports, workers' compensation records, and worker reports of problems. However, a more forward-looking approach, to be used in combination with reviewing injury and illness records, is to be proactive in identifying potential ergonomic issues that have gone unnoticed or resulted from facility changes, before they result in MSDs. Observations of workplace conditions and work processes, ergonomic job analyses, workplace surveys, and worker interviews are common proactive methods for identifying ergonomics related injury risks.
Review Injury Records
Looking at your injury and illness data will help identify ergonomic problems. These data can be obtained from reviewing the company's OSHA 300 Injury and Illness Logs, 301 reports, workers' compensation records, first aid logs, accident and near-miss investigation reports, insurance company reports and worker reports of problems.
worker unloading water from a truck
Reaching above the shoulder to load objects
Observe Workplace Conditions
By looking critically at your workplace operations, you can identify risk factors and eliminate or control them as early as possible.
Risk Factors
The risk of MSD injury depends on work positions and postures, how often the task is performed, the level of required effort and how long the task lasts. Risk factors that may lead to the development of MSDs include:
  • Exerting excessive force. Examples include lifting heavy objects or people, pushing or pulling heavy loads, manually pouring materials, or maintaining control of equipment or tools.
  • Performing the same or similar tasks repetitively. Performing the same motion or series of motions continually or frequently for an extended period of time.
  • Working in awkward postures or being in the same posture for long periods of time. Using positions that place stress on the body, such as prolonged or repetitive reaching above shoulder height, kneeling, squatting, leaning over a counter, using a knife with wrists bent, or twisting the torso while lifting.
  • Localized pressure into the body part. Pressing the body or part of the body (such as the hand) against hard or sharp edges, or using the hand as a hammer.
  • Cold temperatures. In combination with any one of the above risk factors may also increase the potential for MSDs to develop. For example, many of the operations in meatpacking and poultry processing occur with a chilled product or in a cold environment.
  • Vibration. Both whole body and hand-arm, can cause a number of health effects. Hand-arm vibration can damage small capillaries that supply nutrients and can make hand tools more difficult to control. Hand-arm vibration may cause a worker to lose feeling in the hands and arms resulting in increased force exertion to control hand-powered tools (e.g. hammer drills, portable grinders, chainsaws) in much the same way gloves limit feeling in the hands. The effects of vibration can damage the body and greatly increase the force which must be exerted for a task.
  • Combined exposure to several risk factors. May place workers at a higher risk for MSDs than does exposure to any one risk factor.
In addition, observe whether workers are:
  • Modifying their tools, equipment or work area
  • Shaking their arms and hands
  • Rolling their shoulders
  • Bringing products such as back belts or wrist braces into the workplace
worker using a vibrating tool
Using a vibrating tool
These behaviors can mean that workers are experiencing ergonomic issues. Talk with them and review their work to see if any risk factors for MSDs are present. Workers can identify and provide important information about hazards in their workplaces. Their opinions and suggestions for change also are valuable.
Once problem jobs are identified, conducting an in-depth ergonomic job analysis can help identify solutions to prevent MSDs. An ergonomic job hazard analysis is a technique that focuses on job tasks as a way to identify hazards before they occur. It focuses on the relationship between the worker, the task, the tools, and the work environment.
Encouraging and Utilizing Early Reports of Injury
Comprehensive injury reporting is important to the success of an ergonomic process. The goal of this effort is to properly assess, diagnose, and treat MSDs. Early reporting, diagnosis, and intervention can limit injury severity, improve the effectiveness of treatment, minimize the likelihood of disability or permanent damage, and reduce workers compensation claims. This will allow the employer to correctly identify work areas or specific tasks where injuries frequently occur or are most severe. This information helps direct the activities of the ergonomic team as well as to guide healthcare providers in making return-to-work and light-duty work decisions. OSHA's injury and illness recording and reporting regulation (29 CFR Part 1904) require employers to record and report work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses.
Encouraging and utilizing reports MSD symptoms:
  • Reinforces worker training on recognizing MSD symptoms.
  • Encourages early reporting of MSD symptoms.
  • Allows for prompt medical evaluations for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care.
  • Reduces injury severity, the number of workers' compensation claims and associated costs and the likelihood of permanent disability.
  • Provides guidance on return-to-work and work placement restrictions during the healing process.
  • Guides job modifications.
  • Provides a mechanism to track and trend MSD injuries.
  • Enables assessment of the effectiveness of work changes.
Healthcare professionals are important ergonomic team members. They help injured workers recover more quickly and return to their jobs with appropriate restrictions and less risk for re-injury. It is necessary that these professionals are knowledgeable about the operations and work practices within the specific industry. Their knowledge will allow them to assist the injured worker during the healing process and in post-injury work placement.
Resources on Risk Factors
  • Easy Ergonomics: A Practical Approach for Improving the Workplace. California Department of Industrial Relations (Cal/OSHA), (1999). Section II, Ergonomics and Your Workplace, page 7. Provides descriptions and examples of common factors that contribute to the development of MSDs.
  • Fitting the Task to the Person: Ergonomics for Very Small Businesses. California Department of Industrial Relations (Cal/OSHA), (2000). Provides descriptions and examples of common risk factors with solutions.
  • Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs). Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. (December 12, 2005). Outlines common risk factors and their injuries.
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders and Workplace Factors. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-141. (July 1997). Reviews the majority of the relevant studies available at the time and documents the relationship between MSDs and various workplace factors.
  • National Research Council. Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace: Low Back and Upper Extremities. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2001. Presents the latest information on the prevalence, incidence and costs of musculoskeletal disorders and identifies factors that influence injury reporting.
  • National Research Council. Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders: A Review of the Evidence. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1998. Based on evidence presented and discussed at the two-day Workshop on Work-Related Musculoskeletal Injuries: Examining the Research Base and on follow-up deliberations of the steering committee assembled by the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council.
  • National Research Council. Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders: Report, Workshop Summary, and Workshop Papers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1999.Includes a steering committee report, workshop information and a review of interventions.
Resources on Job Analysis
  • Job Hazard Analysis. OSHA Publication 3071, (Revised 2002). Explains what a job hazard analysis is and offers guidelines to help conduct your own step-by-step analysis.
  • Easy Ergonomics: A Practical Approach for Improving the Workplace. California Department of Industrial Relations (Cal/OSHA), (1999). Ergonomics Job Analysis Methods, and Ergonomic Awareness Checklist, pages 19-25.
  • Ergonomic Assessment Toolkit. American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) Ergonomic Committee, (2011). Provides a consolidated resource of commonly used ergonomic assessment tools with explanation of when, where and how each tool is applied. An electronic link is provided for each tool.
  • Assessment Tools. Department of Defense (DoD) Environment, Safety and Occupational Health Network and Information Exchange (DENIX), Ergonomics Working Group. Provides links to assessment tools and prevention strategies developed by the DOD Ergonomics Working Group.
  • Manual handling. Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Contains tools to help employers analyze lifting and moving (MAC tool), repetitive tasks like twisting, bending and repeated movements (ART tool) and push/pull.
  • Analysis Methods and Tools for Ergonomists. Thomas E. Bernard, University of Southern Florida, College of Public Health. Provides a suite of advanced tools, which may require outside training or direction or use by an experienced practitioner.
  • Liberty Mutual Manual Materials Handling Tables. Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, (2012). These tables present information about the percentages of men and women capable of performing manual material handling tasks without overexertion.
  • Evaluation Tools. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Provides links for evaluation tools.
  • Applications Manual for the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 94-110. (January 1994). Contains a complete description of all terms in NIOSH's lifting equation with several sample calculations.
  • Health Hazard Evaluations. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH conducts investigations of possible health hazards in the workplace. This page allows a search for all NIOSH evaluations concerning ergonomics.
Resources on Injury Rates
  • Worker Health eChartbook: Musculoskeletal Conditions - Magnitude and Trend. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Provides descriptive occupational morbidity and mortality data in the United States. It includes figures and tables describing the magnitude, distribution and trends of the nation's occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
  • Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away from Work. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Economic News Release. Contains summary and MDS statistics (incidence rates by industry), including data tables of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses that require days away from work in private industry, state government, and local government.