One of the most common accidents for health care professionals construction workers and employees in various other industries relates to repetitive, strenuous movement and overexertion. Musculoskeletal disorders occur quickly and correlate to injury, illness and inefficiencies across your company which results in less job satisfaction, lower productivity and higher workers’ compensation costs.
Eliminating ergonomic risks and reducing opportunities for them to occur can result in lower workers’ compensation costs and associated liabilities. Ergonomic consulting firms and services can help. At TRC, we help businesses address ergonomic needs to reduce workplace injuries. Before TRC can implement an ergonomics strategy, it’s important to understand what the term means.
What Is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics uses technology and methods to reduce worker discomfort and promote workplace efficiency. Ergonomic functions are designed with human safety in mind.
Issues behind safety at work can be as simple as eye strain after a long day or wrist or neck pain from typing. Ergonomics considers movement, actions and processes that take place throughout the workday to reduce these health and safety concerns. Does your company have the proper tools to keep employees from experiencing harm?
Ergonomics and MSDs
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are injuries or disorders that affect any part of our musculoskeletal system, including the muscles, tendons, nerves, ligaments, joints, spinal discs, cartilage and blood vessels. MSD problems can affect the human body’s movement for years or even for the rest of the individual’s life.
Prolonged exposure to a combination of ergonomic risk factors will increase the potential for MSDs. There are two categories of risk factors associated with ergonomic injuries individual-related and work-related. Insufficient fitness, unhealthy habits and poor work practices are considered individual risk factors and must be personally improved upon throughout life.
Work-related MSDs occur when the work environment or physical requirements of the job contribute significantly to the injury or condition. If a worker’s regular performance of their job causes an MSD to worsen or persist for longer than expected, the MSD would then be considered work-related.
Employers can reduce work-related MSDs by ensuring the physical requirements of the job match the worker’s capabilities. Ergonomic workstations and tools are designed to reduce work-related MSDs and are vital for a safe, healthful workplace.
Impact of MSDs
Musculoskeletal disorders can severely impact the worker and also lead to financial and economic losses for the employer. MSDs have been linked with high costs to employers through increased expenses on health care, disability and workers’ compensation, lost productivity and absenteeism.
Among the various causes for lost or restricted work time, MSDs are some of the most frequently reported reasons for worker absenteeism. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), almost 30% of all workers’ compensation costs result from MSDs. Of the 1.8 million workers who report MSDs each year, about 600,000 required time off work due to their injuries or conditions.
On a personal level, MSD problems can impact a worker with pain and symptoms lasting their entire life. Nearly all tissue in the human body can be affected by MSDs, including muscles, tendons and nerves. The back and arms are the most frequently affected areas MSDs may forever impact a worker’s mobility and prevent them from experiencing many qualities of life.
Ergonomic Risks in the Workplace
Ergonomic risks are a top factor in the onset of musculoskeletal disorders. These are life-changing conditions that affect the muscles, nerves, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels and more.
Companies often forget that workplace injuries are avoidable when you consider suitable jobs for your staff. You can reduce the number of workplace injuries when you ensure employees can complete tasks efficiently and safely. Know the risk factors associated with MSDs, so that you may create a safer and more efficient workplace.
Ergonomic, work-related risk factors that are likely to cause MSD conditions may include:
- Force: Jobs that require high muscle effort surpassing a worker’s physical capabilities can lead to ergonomic injury.
- Repetition: Excessive repetitive motions can irritate tendons and increase pressure on nerves.
- Posture: An awkward, unsupported or static posture can irritate tendons, compress nerves, strain joints, restrict blood flow and damage muscles.
- Motion: Quick movements, especially when bending or twisting, can exert increased force on the body.
- Compression: Compressed or contact stress can concentrate force on a particular area of the body, reducing blood flow and damaging tendons.
- Vibration: Repeated exposure to high vibration levels can restrict blood flow and cause ergonomic injuries.
- Noise: Frequent exposure to loud noise at or above 85 decibels â€” can kill nerve endings inside the inner ear. Risks from noise ergonomics may also include severe or permanent hearing loss.
- Inadequate recovery time: When tissue has insufficient time to recover either due to overtime, a lack of breaks or limited variation of tasks injury is more likely.
- Temperature extremes: Cold temperatures reduce dexterity and cause the tissue to become stiff, while hot temperatures can cause muscle fatigue.
Workers who repeatedly perform the following types of jobs and motions are at greater risk of MSDs:
- Routine heavy lifting
- Repetitive forceful tasks
- Manual handling
- Manufacturing and production jobs
- Routine overhead work
- Twisting or bending motions
- Long periods of work in an awkward position
Some work will require the above conditions, so employers must understand and reduce the risks of developing MSDs wherever possible. Business owners are responsible for their workers and the actions they take. TRC will educate your business on how to provide ergonomics training to your team.
Some common examples of musculoskeletal disorders include the following:
- Tendinitis or rotator cuff tendinitis
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Muscle and tendon strains
- Back injuriesincluding mechanical back pain
- Epicondylitisalso known as tennis elbow
- Ligament sprains
- Tension neck syndrome
- Radial tunnel syndrome
- DeQuervain’s syndrome, which affects the thumb tendons in the wrist
- Trigger finger or trigger thumb
- Interdigital neuritis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Ruptured or herniated discs
- Thoracic outlet syndrome, which causes neck and shoulder pain
Symptoms of MSDs
Symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders include the following:
- Strained or aggravated tissue, such as muscles, tendons and nerves
- Numbness of fingers or thighs
- Difficulty moving fingers
- Stiff joints, especially in the arms or hands
- Back pain
There are several signs that employers can observe in their workers, which may mean that the workplace is causing MSD problems.
Workers who regularly roll their shoulders, shake their arms and hands or perform similar behaviors are likely experiencing an ergonomic injury. The modification of tools, equipment and work areas is an excellent indicator that the work environment is insufficient for the worker’s required tasks. When products like back belts or wrist braces are being used in the workplace, the job may be causing MSD conditions.
How to Mitigate MSDs With Ergonomics
Address those MSD signs with appropriate workplace modifications designed to prevent ergonomic risks and conditions. Manufacturing and production industries can provide anti-fatigue standing mats and adjustable workstations to improve the ergonomics of their employees. Occupational therapy and training to improve neck and shoulder posture will teach healthful habits for improved ergonomics.
Standing desks, adjustable chairs, footrests and ergonomic keyboards can modify an office for improved ergonomics. Use design goals to ensure the ergonomic performance of computer-related tasks. Set up any current computer workstations so that:
- The top of the monitor is at or just below eye level.
- There is adequate room for a keyboard and mouse.
- Your head and neck are in line with your torso.
- Your shoulders are in a relaxed position.
- Your elbows are supported at a close distance to your body.
- Your wrists and hands are in line with your forearms.
- Your lower back is supported.
- Your feet are flat, either on the floor or a footrest.
OSHA’s Ergonomics History
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has addressed ergonomics in various ways throughout the past few decades. In the 1990s, OSHA began to cultivate a strong interest in the topic. After a decade of studying ergonomics, OSHA issued an Ergonomics Program Standard in 2000, which became effective in January of the following year.
The standard received immediate and intense criticism, and about two months later on March 20, 2001 President George W. Bush officially repealed the new standard by signing a joint resolution.
What Is Ergonomics According to OSHA?
According to OSHA, ergonomics means designing the job to match the employee’s physical capabilities rather than forcing the employee to meet unrealistic ideals for the job. This process may include modifying tasks, workstations and equipment to alleviate symptoms of MSDs and eliminate ergonomic risk factors.
From an OSHA perspective, the importance of ergonomics has not diminished despite the repeal of the Ergonomics Program Standard. While mandatory compliance of ergonomics standards is no longer explicitly enforced, OSHA continues to issue guidelines that contain recommendations, best practices and lessons learned for various industries. OSHA also addresses ergonomics under the General Duty Clause as “recognized hazards.”
Despite shifts in the White House toward compliance rather than enforcement of ergonomics, businesses that elect to ignore ergonomics can expect costly results.
OSHA’s General Duty Clause Section 5(a)(1)
Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act often referred to as the General Duty Clause requires an employer to provide their workers a place of employment without recognized hazards. Those hazards are considered ones that are causing or would likely cause death or serious physical harm to employees.
Employers must keep workplaces free from serious recognized hazards including ergonomic risks. An employer who fails to address ergonomics can be cited for violating the General Duty Clause if certain factors are proven. Before enforcing violations, OSHA must review whether:
- An ergonomic hazard exists at the workplace to which the employees were exposed.
- The risk or danger was recognized.
- The hazard causes, or is likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees.
- There is a feasible method to reduce or correct the hazard currently in existence.
If the workplace contains a recognized severe hazard and OSHA determines the employer did not take reasonable steps to reduce or correct it, the employer can be cited for a violation. It is crucial to note, OSHA’s enforcement efforts will cease if the employer has a feasible method or is taking reasonable steps to prevent ergonomic hazards.
All employees are covered under the General Duty Clause, which generally protects them against work-related ergonomic injuries and conditions likely to cause MSDs. So, OSHA can cite employers for a violation even in the absence of industry-specific guidelines.
How to Implement an Effective Ergonomics Process
To implement an effective ergonomics program in the workplace, employers must continually assess and reduce the risk of developing work-related MSDs. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace for employees proper use of ergonomics can decrease risks, injuries and MSD conditions.
An industrial ergonomics program is vital for high-risk industries, including:
- Manufacturing and production
- Health care
- Food processing
- Office work
Even if your employees work in an industry of lower risk of ergonomic injury, they may still experience work-related MSDs. The following measures will help you establish an effective corporate ergonomics program for any business or company.
1. Management Support
To develop a successful process, you must first consider the close relationship between ergonomics and safety management. Management must have a solid commitment to supporting ergonomics in the workplace.
Define clear goals and objectives for improvement. Clearly communicate the ergonomic process with employees and stress the importance of correcting ergonomic risks. Management should demonstrate the individual role that workers have in the process and assign responsibilities to designated staff members. When employees are kept on the same page, the potential for ergonomic injuries can significantly decrease.
2. Employee Involvement
Employee involvement is essential for an ergonomic program’s success and offers several benefits. Develop a participatory approach where employees can:
- Identify and provide critical information about workplace hazards.
- Provide suggestions for reducing exposure to risk factors.
- Voice concerns about exposure to risk factors.
- Evaluate any changes made in the job as a result of ergonomic assessments.
Employers who directly involve their workers in ergonomic assessments can more readily locate risks that still need addressed and gauge the effectiveness of current solutions. In some cases, the employee can assist in implementing ergonomic modifications their feedback will be vital in continued improvements.
3. Training Support
Both employers and employees must understand the benefits of ergonomics. While you address any work-related risk factors, there are some ergonomic risk factors that must be handled on an individual basis, such as poor fitness or inadequate health habits.
An ergonomics training program can educate workers about various harmful habits they can personally prevent at work and in life. Ergonomic training should be offered in the workplace as often as possible to ensure all workers receive the benefits.
Workplace ergonomics training can have additional benefits when provided by an industry expert who has experience with ergonomic hazards or injuries. Effective training will:
- Teach the principles of ergonomics with industry-specific applications.
- Provide instruction for proper use of any tools, equipment or machines handled during the job.
- Promote good work practices, such as proper lifting techniques and good work positions for computer workstations.
- Increase awareness of work tasks or movements that may lead to pain or injury.
- Inform workers on how to identify problems and early symptoms of MSDs.
- Demonstrate the importance of addressing symptoms of MSDs, as early indications may develop into serious, long-term injuries.
- Provide an early reporting process for work-related injuries and illnesses, as required by OSHA’s regulation for proper recording and reporting.
Besides supplying ergonomics training, you can encourage frequent stretch breaks and provide industry-specific resources for training support to your employees.
4. Problem Identification
You want to identify ergonomic problems before they result in work-related MSDs. Consider all jobs and their associated processes from an ergonomic perspective.
Review the following company records to identify existing risks in the workplace:
- OSHA 300 injury and illness logs
- 301 reports
- First aid logs
- Workers’ compensation records
- Accident and near-miss investigation reports
- Claims data and insurance company reports
- Worker reports of work-related injuries and illnesses
- Worker concerns and suggestions related to risk exposure
- Safety Committee minutes
There are several proactive methods you can utilize to identify ergonomic risks that have gone unnoticed or undocumented. Evaluate if changes need to made by:
- Observing workplace conditions and work practices.
- Performing periodic ergonomic job assessments of the facility, workstations, equipment and tools.
- Conducting workplace ergonomic surveys and worker interviews.
Once you have identified the risk factors of a workplace, you can better implement solutions to prevent future MSD problems.
5. Early Reporting Process
Establish a defined process that employees can use to report early symptoms of MSDs and other work-related injuries or illnesses. Encourage workers to report injuries immediately, as early reporting can:
- Reduce the progression of symptoms and prevent serious injuries.
- Diagnose MSDs and minimize the risk of permanent damage.
- Accelerate the ergonomic job assessment process.
- Assess the effectiveness of modifications and treatments.
- Help prevent lost-time claims and costly impacts.
- Guide job modifications and implementations.
- Provide a method to track MSDs.
6. Hazard Control Solutions
Once you have reviewed the risk factors and identified problems in the workplace, you must determine the best solution to reduce, control and eliminate these hazards. Solutions that address conditions likely to cause MSDs may include:
- Modifying existing tools and equipment.
- Designing new ergonomic workspaces.
- Changing work practices to suit worker capabilities better.
- Reducing physical demands of the job.
- Eliminating unnecessary and harmful movements.
- Consider the use of robotics.
If you implement solutions to control hazards, you can expect lowered injury rates, reduced employee turnover and increased productivity. Consider solutions that have been successful for others in your industry or even in other industries to guide your hazard control solutions.
7. Progress Evaluations
Ergonomic assessments are necessary to establish an effective ergonomic process. An ergonomic assessment is an objective measure of the exposure your employees may have to risk factors capable of causing MSDs.
In addition to the initial assessment, you must establish periodic progress evaluations to ensure continued improvement of the ergonomic process. For long-term success, you will want to periodically assess the effectiveness of modifications and determine whether the ergonomic process sufficiently meets your goals.
Establish corrective action procedures for modifications that fail to achieve desired results. You can use several ergonomic assessment tools to evaluate progress ergonomic consulting companies can also help you collect and measure relevant data.
Consider the following steps when conducting your ergonomic assessments and progress evaluations:
- Review existing data: Collect available data from various company records OSHA 300 injury and illness logs, 301 reports, first aid logs, workers’ compensation records, claims data and any other documents that may be helpful. Identify activities or departments that are of higher risk and note common injuries and symptoms.
- Gather subjective data: Perform a hands-on evaluation of the current workplace. Walk the facility and observe the environment your employees work in with a critical eye. Conduct workplace surveys and worker interviews about their comfort level and conditions.
- Gather objective data: Develop a prioritized list based on your previously collected data. Determine which work activities and departments you need to evaluate first. Then, utilize various ergonomic assessment tools to measure the risk factors identified in the existing and subjective reports.
- Prioritize risks using all data: Based on all the data collected, analyze the workplace for hazards. Identify critical opportunities for improvement and determine the potential for or severity of injuries. Establish separate processes for short-term and long-term impacts.
Ergonomic Program Development
Our program of Creating Positive EMOTIONS (Ergonomic Motions) requires commitment from managers to make a change. You and your colleagues will need to design goals for ergonomic implementation. If you are unsure where to begin, that’s all right! TRC is with you through every step of the process.
We offer the following ergonomic consulting services:
Ergonomic program development and implementation
- Employee complaint resolution
- WMSD trend analysis
- Physical demand evaluations
- Workstation design and training
- WMSD management action plans
- Quick corrective solutions
- Patient handling and mobility services
- Expert witness support
Changing workplace practices will involve input from your employees, as well. TRC encourages managers and business owners to gain insight from their staff. What might the largest hazards at the workplace be, and how might you discover more about them?
Encourage your employees to voice their opinions about the tools and resources they need to perform daily job tasks. This knowledge will allow TRC to identify ergonomic problems and correct safety hazards at the source.