Unhealthy habits and unsafe repetitive workplace motion can plague employees, resulting in costly inefficiency. By following positive workplace ergonomic procedures, employees can become more aware of their own health and safety, increasing engagement in their work and adding to the success of the organization overall.
A History of Ergonomics
Ergonomics is the study of workplace design in relation to human limitations and the capabilities of workers. The science world took notice of this relationship in the 1940s. At this time it became obvious that more workers were using complex equipment that demanded repetitive motions and static postures. This change in workforce habits created more injuries, which prevented employees from effectively doing their jobs. Instances of these injuries first became evident in the military, where the high physical and cognitive requirements placed on humans operating machines led to physical ailments and poor performance. Since then, research has proven there is a significant connection between repetitive job tasks and musculoskeletal disorders.
Physical Risk in the Workplace
Perhaps the greatest risks that workers continue to face are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These disorders are the most frequently cited, because they result in the most lost work time as reported by workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 31 percent of all cases of sprains or strains as a result of overexertion while lifting objects.
There are a host of factors that pose a risk of workers encountering MSDs. These include performing repetitive tasks, bending down and reaching overhead, awkward postures, heavy lifting and pushing and pulling heavy weighted loads. These factors, either performed alone or combined with other factors, can lead to a variety of MSDs which include carpal tunnel syndrome, epicondylitis, tendonitis, rotator cuff injuries, muscle strains and joint and lower back pain.
Implementing Ergonomics at Work
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides many effective guidelines for instilling ergonomic practices within the work environment. Of course, workers in some industries are at greater risk than others. Implementing ergonomic improvements, however, can reduce the risk of injury in many occupations including construction, firefighting, office jobs, health care, food processing and more.
The first step involves identifying tasks and potential ergonomic problems early, before musculoskeletal disorders occur. Once the risks are established, workers should be trained to be aware of proper ergonomic procedures and be encouraged to report injuries as early as possible. Not only should workers be involved through feedback, suggestions and evaluating ergonomic progress, but there should be a strong commitment from leaders in an organization to support their employees in making these positive changes.
Benefits of Ergonomics
The benefits of ergonomics may seem obvious: keeping workers healthy and avoiding injury. There are several other benefits, however, that are associated with following positive ergonomic practices.
Cost: Reducing workplace injuries and MSDs alleviates health care and workers’ compensation costs. This provides a significant savings for companies.
Productivity: Increased efficiency means increased productivity. When workers feel stronger and have more energy because they are working in an environment that caters to their needs and capabilities, they will accomplish tasks more efficiently.
Quality: Strains and recurring injuries lead to frustrated workers who are easily exhausted and not motivated to work to the best of their abilities. If a worker is too tired to properly perform their job requirements, the quality of their work may suffer.
Engagement: Workers who feel their employers are looking after their health and safety are more likely to stay engaged and give their best on the job. Employee engagement also leads to reduced absenteeism, less turnover and improved morale.
Culture of Safety: Companies that make it clear their main concern is creating a healthy and safe work environment are able to increase the positive effects of ergonomics in all aspects of their organizations. A culture of safety promotes hard work and better performance from everyone involved.
Equipment and Ergonomic Strategy
Heavy lifting is one of the main causes of musculoskeletal disorders. Companies can assure positive ergonomics techniques in regard to lifting by investing in assisted lifting devices or establishing rules that require two people to lift heavy loads. In more physically demanding industries, certain tasks can be rotated and shared among workers to reduce the motion repetitiveness and monotony that leads to injury. Finally, personal protective equipment should be available to all workers. Padding should be used when in contact with hard or sharp surfaces. Thermal gloves, hard hats and supportive footwear can enable workers to stay healthy and comfortable.
By adhering to the principles of ergonomics, organizations can reduce the risks of employee injuries while becoming more efficient and productive in the process.
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