By Grainger Editorial Staff 1/3/22
Workplace ergonomics, as outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), means fitting the job to the person to improve health and comfort. Understanding the benefits of proper ergonomics and setting up an ergonomic plan for employees can help create a healthier and safer workplace.
Bad ergonomics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), can lead to a range of musculoskeletal issues such as back or wrist injuries, which can occur when workers repeatedly lift heavy objects, or lean or sit in awkward positions. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) resulted in 3 out of every 10 cases of days away from work in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Jobs ranging from heavy lifting and repetitive assembly to office work or maintenance each pose their own ergonomic challenges. The CDC reports that even choosing hand tools that require less force or repetitive motion can make a difference. When assessing for ergonomic problems, factor in all types of work done throughout the facility and all potential hazards, so that all workers can benefit from a healthier workplace.
According to FMLink, investments in ergonomics should focus on an employee's core work, including the tasks they do every day, as well as the workstation. That can mean updating workbenches, incorporating lifting equipment to reduce manual labor or changing chairs and desks for office workers.
For workers engaged in manual labor, repetitive motion or lifting can lead to severe injuries. Lifting injuries can be reduced by using mechanical lifts and carts. Adding handles to boxes or baskets can also make it easier to lift properly. Workstations should be height adjustable, and tools should be close to workers to reduce strain. Rotating workers into less stressful roles periodically or providing more frequent breaks can also help prevent injuries due to repetition.
To address ergonomic concerns in your facility, you can create a plan to identify and resolve the most common issues. Be sure to consider ergonomic challenges for both manual workers and office workers. OSHA suggests reviewing past injury reports, observing working conditions and interviewing employees more frequently to identify all problems, no matter how insignificant they may seem.
Good ergonomics may not be common knowledge to your employees, even if you invest in proper equipment and furniture. According to OSHA, training should be offered to employees to both help them understand the benefits of ergonomics, as well as teach them specific techniques. Training employees on concepts like good posture or avoiding repetitive work can help increase the effectiveness of your ergonomic program.
Posture should always be the starting point for best ergonomic practice. Good posture, according to Harvard Medical School, includes a neutral position for the spine, body weight distributed evenly and abdominal muscles braced.
Excessive force can cause fatigue or injury. Identify instances in the workflow where force needs to be applied and find ways to reduce or eliminate it.
Grip type and pressure vary depending on the job. A pinch grip is used to hold something between the fingers, like a pencil or a key. A power grip is used to hold an object between the fingers and palm, like a drill or a fishing rod. Matching the right grip and posture to the right tool can help make the job more ergonomically sound
Static load occurs when a person must hold the same position for a long time, which can cause muscle fatigue and discomfort. Repeated instances of static load can have long-term effects; for example, carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by repetition of the same movement of the wrist.
A poorly designed workstation can result in strain and discomfort, whether working in an office, a hospital, on the manufacturing floor or even outdoors. Small changes to the workspace can relieve many tension-causing activities and unnecessary exertions.
Ergonomic practices are mostly about implementing simple fixes to make the workplace less taxing on the body. Identifying and improving situations where there is extra range of motion required, too much pressure on the body or repetitive motion can help make the workplace more comfortable for everyone.
The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.