What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. It involves how a workplace, the equipment used there and the work environment itself can best be designed for comfort, efficiency, safety and productivity.
Controlling ergonomic risk factors is an important part of ensuring your employees have a safe workplace.
What are ergonomic hazards in the workplace?
This typically means that there are hazards within your work environment that can harm the musculoskeletal system. [This is the combination of the muscular and skeletal systems working together and includes the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments of the body, allowing motion and protecting vital organs.]
Examples of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Rotator cuff injuries (shoulder)
- Epicondylitis (elbow)
- Trigger finger
- Muscle strains and low back injuries
Risk Factors include:
- High task repetition
- Forceful exertions
- Repetitive/sustained awkward postures
- Contact stress
Ergonomic hazards include things such as repetitive movements, manual handling, the design of the workplace or job or task, having an uncomfortable workstation height and/or poor body positioning.
Impact of MSDs in the Workplace
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2013, MSD cases accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases.
Work-related MSDs are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time.
Why reduce ergonomic risk factors?
- Reduce your costs by reducing risk factors, which can prevent costly MSDs.
- Improve productivity when you design a job and work station to enable good posture, less exertion, fewer motions and better reaches.
- Improve work and product quality. Poor ergonomics often leads to fatigued workers, which may mean that they might not perform their job as they were trained to do leading to substandard products.
- Improve employee engagement as employees see that their health and safety is important to your company. Lessening the fatigue and discomfort employees experience can reduce turnover, decrease absenteeism and improve employee morale.
- Show your commitment to safety and health, making it a core value can lead to a stronger safety culture.
Reducing Ergonomic Hazards
Review workstations and workspaces along with work processes so that you can identify potential ergonomic hazards, then one thing you can do is to devise and implement safety practices to reduce these hazards. That might be things such as:
- Engineering controls that focus on eliminating excessive force and awkward position requirements thus reducing worker fatigue.
- Proper training, ensuring workers are trained on the proper work techniques to help prevent MSDs
- Allowing for workers to rotate between workstations and/or tasks to avoid prolonged periods of performing a single task.
- Using mechanical assists, adjustable height lift tables and ergonomic tools to reduce work effort and muscle exertions or using carts and dollies to reduce lifting and carrying demands
You should have an ergonomic training program in which all employees receive basic MSD training and refer to the OSHA Ergonomics web pages for more information.