Health and Safety in the workplace – Bringing the nation to its knees

Thousands of people who spend any length of time kneeling are seriously underestimating the amount of long-term damage they could be doing to their knees, ultimately adversely affecting their mobility and even future finances through being unable to work.

Our knees are complex. Often thought of as a simple hinge in our legs, knees in fact support the majority of our body weight and allow us to stand, walk, run, climb stairs, kick, crouch, sit, and stand up again. For workers who spend a great deal of time on floor level surfaces, or crawling in confined areas, the phrase, “Our knees are our feet!” is appropriate. As a result, workplace injuries to knees are not uncommon.

It is said that one knee injury is attributed to about 15 days away from work. The knees are the largest joints in our body. Each is made up of the three main leg bones (femur, tibia, and fibula) and the knee cap (patella). Cartilage helps lubricate bone movement along with fluid-filled sacs called bursa, which cushion direct impacts to the knees. If the tendons and ligaments that hold the knee components together become weak or damaged, the bones can become misaligned, resulting in pain or injury.

But there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself or the people who work for you: for example:

Try not to twist the knee joint while it is bent to do the job as this increases the risk of injury, so consider:

  • Raising the work off the floor;
  • Designing the space so that you or your employees can work from a seated position instead of a kneeling one.
  • Positioning materials that can be grasped and moved above the knees so there’s no need to bend the knee to retrieve or lift the item.

Kneeling or squatting for extended periods places a lot of pressure on knee joints. It is important to relieve that pressure by moving the joint through its full range of motion: –bending, stretching, and flexing the knee and leg–at regular intervals. This activity helps the knee’s shock-absorbing tissues to better absorb synovial fluid thus improving lubrication of the joint and reducing the risk of injury. Dirty clothing and kneepads can result in skin infections for people who spend a lot of time on their knees so make sure work trousers and kneepads are kept clean.

Hygiene is of course especially important in all working environments that deal with any type of food or drink or where there is any risk of spreading harmful bacteria in public places such as schools, care homes and hospitals. Having to kneel in any work situation can increase the risk of developing and spreading germs caused by heat and accumulated, absorbed dirt. If, for example, work includes the cleaning, maintenance or installation of heating, plumbing or air conditioning systems in any of these types of premises, in order to help protect the health of both the wearer and those around him or her, it is not only a good idea to keep any PPE clean but also to use items that have had antibacterial treatment. Constantly moving around on knees without the correct protection can cause friction which in turn can lead to skin abrasion from internal shear forces within the knee surface. These forces are extremely destructive and damaging to tissue and can lead to impaired blood flow, pain, tissue breakdown and pressure sores.Excess body weight is not surprisingly an added risk factor so maintaining a healthy weight is a good idea all round!

If it is at all practical, move and change postures frequently – static postures, including kneeling or sitting for long periods, or the sustained operation of foot pedals, decrease blood and nutrient flow to the tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bursa.

But if you have to kneel for a living, the key precaution to preventing injury is of course choosing the correct type of kneepad. A great deal of research has been made into the design and construction of this specialist item of PPE over the last few years, especially by companies such as Redbacks Cushioning Limited which has been very successfully selling their Redbacks non-foam/non-gel knee pads which feature a soft and flexible TPE (Thermo Plastic Elastomer) leaf-spring set within a unique honeycomb matrix; this ‘Redbacks Cushioning Technology’ distributes body weight evenly, elevating the knees to relieve back pain and reduce pressure on knee, leg, ankle and foot joints, whilst minimising the risk of possible injury from sharp or penetrating objects. The company also offers kneepads that are produced with antimicrobial properties which have been independently tested to ISO 22196 and are effective against MRSA, E-Coli, Salmonella and other harmful bacteria.

CEO of the company, Cliff Lockyer, says: “Based on the fact that there are currently over 90,000 annually registered knee replacement operations by the NHS, in 10 years’ time the total figure will exceed over a million people in the UK alone many of whom will have damaged knees through inadequate protection whilst kneeling. In addition to the unnecessary pain and suffering, the self-employed risk losing their income through injury and the prospect of litigation will be a real threat to employers for not providing the best possible safety measures for their employees”

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