Safety

Address Ergonomics To Keep Workers Healthy

EP Editorial Staff | October 1, 2021

Key causes of musculoskeletal disorders that reduce productivity and cause worker downtime are repetitive motions, handling heavy loads, awkward positions, and excessive standing.

By Ryan Dobbins, CSP, PMP, CHST, CIT, CUSP

One of the more difficult injury types for safety professionals and industry leaders to anticipate and prevent in the workplace is musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). These types of injuries affect muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments and can be generally viewed as sprains and strains. Since all individuals have varying degrees of physical fitness, hazards that cause MSDs are difficult to consistently identify and mitigate. Moreover, these types of disorders can expose employees to increased risk of aggravating pre-existing injuries. One of the best ways to avoid and prevent MSDs in the workplace is to implement ergonomics programs through processes and standardized procedures.

In short, ergonomics is the scientific discipline of fitting the workplace to the worker. This means all workstations, tools, and equipment should be designed or modified to help the worker avoid MSD risk factors. Some common risk factors include:

• repetitive motions
• lifting, pushing, or pulling heavy loads
awkward body positioning, such as leaning, kneeling, squatting, reaching
excessive standing, sitting, or working with poor posture.

Implementing an effective ergonomics program can prevent MSDs and similar injuries through early recognition and reporting and, more important, by proactively conducting ergonomic risk assessments of your workplace and workstations. Each workstation evaluation should focus on three key elements: force, frequency, and posture. The assessment should determine the following, at minimum:

• work positions and postures of workers during routine tasks
• how often a posture, action, or motion is performed during routine tasks
the level of required effort exerted and duration of routine tasks.

After potential risk factors are identified, they can be mitigated using common methods of controlling any work-related hazard. The workstation should first be redesigned or modified to eliminate the hazards identified. If modifications cannot be made, work practices should be implemented to avoid the hazard, such as proper lifting techniques, routine breaks, stretching exercises, and work rotation. As a final barrier to protect workers from ergonomic-related hazards, providing personal protective equipment may be useful, such as knee pads, gripping gloves or footwear, or thermal gloves.

It’s important to recognize that ergonomic-related hazards don’t only exist at a work establishment; they can also exist at remote or home workstations. In the past two years, many workers were required to work from home due to pandemic-related hazards. Since this introduced new working conditions, they may not have had adequate workstations and were exposed to ergonomic-related hazards. Remote or at-home workstations should also be assessed to identify hazards and prevent potential ergonomic-related injuries.

Although the ergonomic-related hazards, or MSDs are not often recognized or considered as much as other common industry hazards and injuries, they can be just as serious and place strain on your organization’s safety and health program. To be most prepared, it’s important to proactively conduct ergonomic assessments at your workstations to identify and mitigate hazards while encouraging a reporting culture to identify potential MSDs early so they can be properly treated or avoided. EP

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