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Contrary to popular belief, the physical considerations for workplace safety go far beyond head and eye protection, production line shut offs, and safe driving practices. And the study of ergonomics goes beyond simply making work more comfortable.
Whether your employees are spending most of their time in front of a computer monitor, behind the wheel, or loading and unloading pallets, ergonomics should be an important part of your safety protocol(s).
Ensuring ergonomics is a priority stands not only to improve your teams’ satisfaction at work but also to reduce the risk of costly workers’ compensation claims.
What causes bad ergonomics?
The practice of ergonomics applies physiological principles to the engineering of products and processes. Simply put, ergonomics involves building systems and processes to better fit the way the human body moves. This is important because ignoring such factors can dramatically increase the development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) over time, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and muscle strains.
Understanding how this happens and the implications of poor ergonomics is key in adding ergonomics best practices to your health and safety protocols.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, MSDs generally develop over time when workers are exposed to certain types of physical conditions, including:
- Exerting excessive force.
- Frequently performing repetitive motions.
- Working in awkward postures or positions for long periods of time.
- Applying localized pressure to a body part.
- Working in cold temperatures.
- Experiencing vibration.
Chances are that team members in your workplace perform these types of activities on a daily basis. Especially in retail, industrial, and warehouse settings, workers are often bending, reaching, lifting, and moving heavy items, or even performing light-duty tasks repetitively. Individually or in combination, these practices make the body susceptible to injuries including sprains and strains, torn muscles and tendons, nerve damage, herniated discs, and other issues that can be severe.
The cost of bad workplace ergonomics
Helping your employees manage ergonomic risks is about more than sending someone home to nurse a sore shoulder, or to the doctor for a strained back. Industry statistics say it all:
- Work-related MSDs are the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time, according to OSHA.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that around one-third of worker injury and illness cases in the private sector is attributable to MSDs.
When ergonomic injuries begin impacting labor hours, they also start to affect your bottom line. More to the point, workers’ compensation claims can have an even bigger negative effect on your business as a whole. Investing in employee training in workplace ergonomics, as well as ergonomically designed gear, can help keep your team safe while simultaneously mitigating your company’s financial risk.
Making ergonomics part of workplace safety
Start with training
Training your team is an essential part of keeping ergonomics a top-of-mind safety issue. As with fall hazards, machinery and equipment operation, and chemical safety, teams and their managers should discuss ergonomics at regular safety meetings. This will help ensure that employees are aware of the potential risks of bad ergonomics and feel empowered to speak up when a potentially hazardous situation arises. Moreover, training employees on what movements or conditions are unsafe or could cause physical injury may help them realize if they already have an MSD condition that requires treatment.
Numerous resources are available to help train employees—both managers and staff—on the basics of ergonomics in their day-to-day jobs. Industry associations, local OSHA offices, universities, and equipment manufacturers are all available to help train and educate employees on how to properly use tools and equipment, and how to position their bodies correctly to minimize the physical impact of their jobs.
Minimize ergonomic hazards on the job
In addition to effectively training employees on safe ergonomic practices, eliminating potential hazards is the next best step in making impactful changes in your workplace. The widely used “hierarchy of controls” developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is easy to apply here. Go through each step to ensure ergonomics are part of your workplace safety plans.
- Elimination: What ergonomic hazards can be removed entirely? For example, can your facility implement better storage and organization to eliminate bending, reaching, and lifting?
- Substitution: What ergonomic hazards can be replaced with safer practices? Can delivery vehicles be unloaded with lift trucks or other equipment rather than by hand?
- Engineering Controls: How can you change the methods and processes used in the workplace as they relate to MSD-causing hazards? This could include implementing mechanical assistance or switching to lightweight packaging materials. Engineering controls are the most effective steps for reducing MSD hazards in the workplace but can be the most difficult to implement.
- Administrative Controls: What policies can your team implement to ensure better ergonomics while waiting to implement engineering controls? Examples include adding required break times from physical work or changing the work itself, such as stepping and turning rather than twisting during material handling.
- Personal Protective Equipment: Where can you identify and invest in PPE for workers to help prevent physical injury? Global Industrial offers a variety of back and joint supports, protective knee pads, and other gear to keep employees safer on the job.
Invest in Material Handling Equipment
Having the right equipment and tools on hand is an easy point of entry for adding more ergonomic considerations to your facilities.
Global Industrial also offers a wide range of material handling equipment that can step up your workplace safety even more. Scissor lifts and lift trucks can make it easier to load and unload shipments, while pallet trucks help to move materials around a warehouse or retail floor. Consider conveyors to move materials down assembly lines or through fulfillment centers to save workers from carrying crates and shipping boxes.
Having proper material handling equipment in place—along with associated best practices—can help your team maintain better posture on the job and minimize physical strain from daily tasks. As you implement new methods, procedures, and policies, be sure to track and evaluate your team’s progress as a result of the changes. Doing so will help keep ergonomics top of mind and allow your managers to pinpoint additional areas of improvement.
Start with Basic Ergonomic Gear for Everyone
In addition to material handling, PPE is among the easiest and most familiar ways to begin addressing your employees’ ergonomic health. Start with back and joint supports, knee and elbow pads, wrist supports and wraps, and thermal gloves and match the equipment with each employee’s daily tasks and personal needs.
Worried some of your team members will try to tough it out and resist wearing PPE? While ergonomic gear should be considered required PPE based on the task performed, there are ways to make adoption easier. Try speaking one-on-one with your team members about which PPE will help them do their jobs most effectively. Doing so helps normalize the wearing of PPE by involving team members in their own safety and customizing it to their needs.
Additionally, ergonomic equipment shouldn’t be exclusive to specific roles. If a back support or knee pads would make an employee more comfortable, even if it’s not essential to their work, providing the support is a minor expense compared to lost productivity if the employee must take time away from work.
Global Industrial puts a great deal of thought into all the ergonomic products available to make your workplace safer. Make sure you do the same. Contact Global Industrial’s product experts today to learn how to support your team.
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