AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Why Do We Get Hurt?


School employees frequently suffer from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMDs) when forced to adapt to poorly designed and worker unfriendly school settings. WMDs are physical problems, such as pain and/or injury of nerves, tendons, muscles and supporting structures of the body. WMDs can result from any of a broad variety of tasks and activities (see box below). Examples of high-risk activities include: handling special education students in classrooms and transferring students with disabilities in and out of buses that have not been suitably adapted for that purpose. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders often develop gradually. Workers can perform these activities for months and years symptom-free. Yet their muscles, ligaments, tendons and spinal disks can be slowly wearing away. The early warning symptoms of wear are chronic lower back pain; neck, shoulder and arm pain; and numbness and weakness in the wrists. Workers with these symptoms are at higher risk for back, neck, shoulder injuries and/or carpal tunnel syndrome.


To determine whether you are at risk for a work-related musculoskeletal disorder:

1. Fill out the discomfort survey. (pdf)

2. For a list of activities, movements and postures that may lead to a WMD, see the Ergonomics Risk Factor Checklist. (pdf)

Do your daily tasks place you at risk for a work-related injury?

School employees are most at risk when work requires:

  • Heavy lifting;
  • Lifting and carrying awkwardly shaped "packages," such as children;
  • Twisting and lifting;
  • Bending;
  • Overhead lifting or reaching;
  • Twisting, repetitive or deviating hand motions (tool and keyboard use);
  • Driving for long periods of time in a vibrating vehicle; and
  • Standing or sitting in the same position for long periods of time.

The AFT-PSRP Department can provide further information on ergonomics and preventive programs through the AFT-PSRP Occupational Safety and Health Program at 202-393-5674.