Ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to the person, rather than requiring the person to conform to the physical parameters of the job. An ergonomic evaluation is a formal, structured process that assesses many physical and cognitive parameters of the worker, the workspace, and the job characteristics to determine if the job fits the worker and to identify ALL risk factors.
How ergonomics impact job safety.
Adapting the job to the worker helps lower risk factors that can lead to injury, improves productivity, and increases employee morale. Ergonomics focuses on the work environment, ensuring the demands of the job match the employee’s physical capabilities. Workplace conditions may be restructured or modified to reduce stressors that cause musculoskeletal disorders. The demands of today’s jobs require an unprecedented amount of attention, diligence, and productivity. Sometimes work environment safety is overlooked to reach efficiency goals.
Biomechanics is the study of body movements and the forces acting upon the musculoskeletal system. Physical Therapists have extensive education and experience evaluating the mechanical forces at work in the human body. Injuries typically occur when biomechanical forces exceed the biomechanical limitations of soft tissue or bone. When combined with biomechanical forces, environmental and ergonomic factors have a cumulative effect on physical health.
Identifying ergonomic hazards
Ergonomic hazards refer to workplace conditions that pose risk of injury to the musculoskeletal system of the worker. Examples of musculoskeletal injuries include tennis elbow (an inflammation of a tendon in the elbow) and carpal tunnel syndrome (a condition affecting the hand and wrist). Ergonomic hazards include repetitive and forceful movements, vibration, temperature extremes, and awkward postures that arise from improper work methods and improperly designed workstations, tools, and equipment.
Ergonomic hazards can occur in many workplace settings and are not limited to just physically demanding jobs.
- Equipment layout and operation
- Workstations (sitting and standing)
- Computer systems
- Significant static loading (awkward posture)
- Continual repetition of movements
- Substantial repeated force
- Environmental Factors
- A pace of work that does not allow sufficient recovery between movements
- Contact Stress
Ergonomic risk mitigation and prevention
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most common workplace injuries resulting in lost workdays in the United States are sprains, strains, and tears, with the low back being the most common body part injured. What can you do to be proactive in preventing workplace injury? Work smart.
If you have an industrial or healthcare position, know and understand proper lifting techniques, use other people or devices when lifting amounts over 40-50 pounds, and take necessary breaks to reduce muscle fatigue. If you have a desk job, make sure that your workstation is set up specifically for you to maintain your spine, shoulders, elbows, and wrists in the most neutral position possible. Take micro-breaks of 10-30 seconds every 30 minutes to stretch and reduce risk of repetitive strain injury. All employees should maintain their health and fitness outside of the workplace.
Just as athletes must prepare for their sport, workers too must be prepared for their jobs. Consider that most athletes spend several hours per week training for a one-hour game. Why then does the worker not prepare for their 8-hour shift? Consider the “worker-athlete.” A worker-athlete should have flexibility in their arms, legs, and spine in addition to proper strength and posture needed to perform their necessary work tasks. Prior to beginning work, take 3-5 minutes to stretch the muscles you will be using that day.
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