Workplace ergonomics is getting a lot of attention nationwide in response to a sharp increase in musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome. These occupational injuries often mean repeated surgery, intractable pain, inability to work, time off for the affected employee and ultimately, higher costs for the employer.
Factors such as work surfaces at the wrong height, uncomfortable chairs, shelves and bins that are too high or out of reach and awkward hand tools all contribute to increased risk of musculoskeletal injuries and negatively can impact productivity.
See Also: Environmental and Workplace Health Regulations & Standards
Paying attention to ergonomics means removing barriers to work productivity. There is a wealth of options available to adjust the workspace to meet employees’ ergonomic needs, and selecting the right options can help employees reap significant bottom line rewards. Comfortable employees stay at their desks or workstations longer, and complete more work in a given shift. Employers who pay attention to these four simple steps are well on their way to gaining these rewards.
By adapting tasks, workstations, tools and equipment to fit the worker, ergonomics seeks to reduce physical stress on a worker’s body and eliminate many potentially serious, disabling work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). If work tasks and equipment do not include ergonomic principles in their design, workers may experience physical stress, strain and overexertion, including exposure to vibration, awkward postures, forceful exertions, repetitive motion and heavy lifting.
The first step to correcting problems is to understand the key workplace ergonomic risk factors and review work tasks in your operation to see which ones apply. This can make a tremendous difference, since occupational safety professionals estimate that reducing physical stresses could eliminate as many as half the serious injuries that happen each year.
Predicting what might go wrong and modifying tools and the work environment to make tasks safer for workers is the first step to reducing problems. The key risk factors and the injuries that can occur include the following: (Figure 1 illustrates a few of these factors):
Figure 1. Selected Risk Factors
• Force – Exerting excessive force can cause a variety of injuries.
• Repetition – Excessive repetition of movements can irritate tendons and increase pressure on nerves.
• Awkward postures – Positions that stretch physical limits can compress nerves and irritate tendons.
• Static postures – Positions that a worker must hold for long periods of time can restrict blood flow and damage muscles.
• Quick motions – Increased speed or acceleration when bending and twisting can increase the amount of force exerted on the body.
• Compression or contact stress – Grasping sharp edges like tool handles can concentrate force on small areas of the body, reduce blood flow and nerve transmission and damage tendons and tendon sheaths.
• Recovery time – Inadequate recovery time due to overtime, lack of breaks and failure to vary tasks can leave insufficient time for tissue repair.
• Vibration – Excessive vibration from tools can decrease blood flow, damage nerves and contribute to muscle fatigue. Whole body vibration can affect skeletal muscles and cause low-back pain.
• Cold temperatures – Working in cold temperatures can adversely affect a worker’s coordination and manual dexterity and cause a worker to use more force than necessary to perform a task.
Engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) are the three key ways to control the risks identified earlier. Examine each of these options to see how each may be used to control risks.
Engineering controls to improve ergonomic risks may include changing the way parts and materials are transported; changing the process to reduce how workers are exposed to risk factors; moving parts around to make it easier for workers to reach them; or changing work station layout, tool design or access and assembly sequence.
Figure 2 – Controlling Risk Factors
Of equal impact are administrative controls; adjusting work practices and policies to reduce risk factors. Examples include rest breaks, job rotation or training to identify signs of ergonomic stress.
Finally, PPE may be considered, including wrist supports, back belts or vibration attenuation gloves. However, it should be noted that although PPE may reduce the duration, frequency or intensity of exposure to risk, its effectiveness in injury reduction is considered inconclusive by NIOSH. Figure 2 is an illustration of the general ways of reducing the risk factors identified in Step 1.
Source EHS Today –
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