Putting an End to Aches & Pains in the Workplace: Ergonomics 101
Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe, just maybe, these examples are what you experience on a typical day.
Streamlining your workplace to be more ergonomic can help eliminate these common issues, improving engagement and boosting overall productivity throughout the day. But what does it mean to have an ergonomic workstation, anyway? And how can Global Industrial help?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines ergonomics as fitting a job to a person. Simply put, this means making physical workplace changes or implementing processes that help lessen the number and severity of work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) impacting a person’s muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and tendons.
MSDs, sometimes referred to as “ergonomic injuries,” occur when the body undergoes pain and discomfort when overexerting or performing repetitive motions over time. Poor posture, overreaching, and excessive force can all contribute to MSDs on the job. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that out of more than 900,000 days away from home (DAFW) cases in 2018, 30% (or roughly 272,000 cases) were considered MSD cases, with a median of 12 days of recuperation time needed before returning to work.1
Ergonomics in the Workplace
Not surprisingly, comfort and productivity tend to go hand in hand in the workplace. When team members are more comfortable on the job — meaning, equipment and tasks support good posture, circulation, and muscle control — the more likely their productivity will be increased. Likewise, when equipment or tasks cause repetitive aches or pains or otherwise poor energy or support, productivity tends to diminish. That’s why it’s important to consider ways to incorporate ergonomics around the office, warehouse, or in other areas that need a little extra care and attention.
Identify the Problems
A great place to start is to conduct periodic reviews of your facility, paying close attention to workstation designs and overall production processes. Review your company’s OSHA 300 injury and illness logs, 301 reports, workers’ compensation records, first aid logs, accident and near-miss investigation reports, insurance company reports, and worker reports of problems to identify existing issues that need addressing from an ergonomics perspective.
But don’t just stop at existing issues — it’s important to think outside the box, too. Are there any new challenges that have recently emerged due to facility changes? Any issues that may have gone unnoticed or unreported? Conducting employee interviews and workplace surveys will prove instrumental in the overall process, helping shed new light on topics or areas you may not have ever considered before.
Understand the Risk Factors
More often than not, MSDs in the workplace stem from having a misunderstanding — or lack of knowledge — of the common risk factors. These risk factors include:
- Exerting excessive force
- Performing the same or similar tasks repetitively
- Working in awkward positions or being in the same posture for long periods of time
- Localized pressure into a body part
- Tasks with high vibration
- Cold temperatures (combined with any of the above risk factors)
Keep an eye out for tell-tale signs of MSDs in the making, such as rolling of the shoulders or stretching, rubbing, or shaking of the arms, hands, and legs. These signs should never be ignored. Talk to your team members about what they’re experiencing and always encourage early reporting to help prevent or reduce the progression of symptoms, the development of serious injuries, and the potential for lost-time claims.
Control the Hazards
Once risk factors have been identified in the workplace, it’s time to take action. Action could be seen in the form of physical changes to the workplace, such as purchasing a pallet jack to help lift and reposition heavy loads or investing in a standing desk to help improve posture and circulation.
Action could also mean establishing new processes and procedures. A rotation schedule between team members, for example, can help lessen the duration of repetitive tasks or continual exertion. Similarly, adding personal protective equipment (PPE) to your procurement to-do list might also be wise. Back supports, foot rests, and protective elbow and knee pads are just a few common examples of PPE that can help add a layer of support and protection to the workday.
Implement a Training Program
While it’s important to identify, understand, and control potential hazards in the workplace, without a proper training program in place, the preparation and legwork you’ve worked so hard to achieve will be all for naught, spelling trouble for both business and employee health. An effective training program should cover the following:
- Principles of ergonomics and their applications
- Proper use of equipment, tools, and machine controls
- Proper lifting techniques
- Common work tasks that may lead to pain or injury
- Early symptoms of MSDs and the importance of early reporting before serious injuries develop
- Procedures for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses, as required by OSHA's injury and illness recording and reporting regulation (29 CFR Part 1904)
Remember: when you place an importance on employee health and safety in the workplace, you’ll start seeing improvements in performance, productivity, and overall satisfaction. Your employees will appreciate the commitment to their well-being and feel confident that they have the tools — and the support (pun intended) — to hit the ground running each day.
1 “Fact Sheet | Occupational injuries and illnesses resulting in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) | May 2020” – United States, 2020, US Bureau of Labor and Statistics
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