Ergonomics is the science of understanding human performance capabilities and the application of design, development and production of systems to reduce risk and optimize wellness. The incorporation of ergonomic ideals in the workplace creates a safer, more productive and more comfortable work environment.
Generally speaking, ergonomics aims to adapt the workplace to the capabilities and limitations of the worker. Proactively addressing ergonomic risk factors is critical to reduce risk and promote the health and safety of all employees. From workstation design to biomechanical considerations and tool selection, there are many issues to contend with as an organization looks to improve ergonomics in a work setting.
Assessing Risk: Look for Ergonomic Improvement Opportunities
The incorporation of ergonomic principals into workplace design relies on understanding the relationship between human performance capabilities and their limitations. Ergonomics will better fit workplace systems to the physical needs of the intended user in the workplace, ensuring safe body mechanics, improved productivity and an overall more comfortable work environment.
A formal participatory ergonomics (PE) compliance program (i.e., job rotation, workplace design, tool selection, etc.) is most effective when implemented before ergonomic issues arise. Ergonomic Risk Assessments should be conducted to identify risk factors in the workplace environment, especially those involving potentially dangerous tasks. Additionally, training staff on basic ergonomics, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) risk factors and early symptom recognition can improve performance, productivity and quality. WMSDs progress with time, making it critical to address ergonomic risks early to prevent new injuries from occurring or to prevent aggravating existing issues.
Addressing ergonomic risk factors should be a priority to improve and create a comfortable work environment. Focusing on proactive ergonomics can result in both a reduction of WMSDs and ensure a safe and healthy work environment.
To ensure an ergonomic working environment, close attention to the design and evaluation of the workplace is necessary because worker productivity is affected by physical ergonomic risk factors. The importance of ergonomics throughout the design process ensures safety, quality and productivity. Ergonomic improvements to employee workstations should consider and apply anthropometric data related to equipment dimensions, such as desk height, chair height, chair arm rest range and seat pan depth, to integrate an adjustability range of motion to ensure physical body variances are accounted for. Adjustability ranges must accommodate the upper and lower limit adjustments for the intended users, seeking to fit a variety of employee body types.
The discipline of biomechanics recognizes the human body as a biological machine and studies the physical demands we endure in the workplace. There are major physical ergonomic risk factors related to cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs), or WMSDs associated with force, posture, repetition, duration and stress/anxiety factors. Common WMSDs include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, muscle strains, back injuries, etc. According to the CDC, These are frequently linked to the work environment, and symptoms can be exasperated through continual work performance.
Ergonomic risk exposures associated with WMSDs can be controlled with proper work design and should consider factors including task content, appropriate staff, procedures, techniques and systems to perform the job. Proper job design can play a crucial role in ensuring safety, efficiency and morale. From an ergonomics perspective, a properly designed workplace allows staff to perform well without excessive stress that can potentially impact performance. Not properly considering ergonomic principles exposes workers to physical and mental fatigue, strain and overexertion, which can create repetitive motion, awkward postures, improper tools use and other work-related risk factors.
Mitigating Ergonomic Risk
When ergonomic risk factors are identified in the workplace, appropriate measures and tools should be implemented to eliminate, reduce, or control these hazards. Based on, elimination, substitution and engineering controls, removing the hazard or removing the worker, are potentially the most effective protection to managing WMSDs. If hazard elimination is not an option, redesigning the work tasks to better control the ergonomic risk factors is necessary. Personal protective equipment (PPE) generally provides limited effectiveness for ergonomic risk factors and should be the last line of defense to protect staff.
Selecting the Right Tools
Attention to the ergonomic impact of the workplace equipment must be considered when selecting the appropriate tool for the job. A work task that involves manual lifting could be redesigned by implementing simple interventions, such as modifying existing equipment or procuring new tools or hoisting devices to reduce manual excursion.
CTDs associated with hand injury issues, often carpal tunnel syndrome, are common, based on use of antiquated tools. Although these tools have successfully completed tasks over the years, new material types and ergonomic principals have been applied to tool design in an effort to limit the ergonomic exposure. In addition, most of the working tools of trade are now designed with adjustable dimensions that can lessen awkward posture and extended reach issues, potentially causing a WMSD. As in many human and equipment interactions, one size truly does not fit all.
TRC Can Help
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) can be prevented by recognizing high-risk ergonomic tasks in the workplace, evaluating the risks, and eliminating the hazard. Ergonomic issues should not be an afterthought; the implementation of a proactive participatory ergonomics (PE) compliance program is a beneficial step in stopping specific injuries before they occur and is part of a continuous improvement process. When organizations focus on proactive ergonomics, including management support, employee participation, hazard communication and training, the results can be significant in both reduction in the number of work-related injuries and the related costs associated with the injuries.
Our professionals conduct comprehensive risk assessments to identify ergonomic risk in a variety of workplace settings. Once risks are identified, recommended actions and improvements can be created to provide a better workplace for employee mental and physical health, increase production levels, eliminate ergonomic and safety hazards and encourage a stronger safety culture throughout the organization. TRC can provide implementation and management of a comprehensive ergonomics program to instill sustained performance of proper ergonomic practices, demonstrating dedication to employees and concern for their well-being.
- A New Approach to Ergonomic Physical Risk Evaluation in Multi-Purpose Workplaces
- Easy Ergonomics: A Guide to Selecting Non-Powered Hand Tools (DHHS [NIOSH] Publication No. 2004–164)
- Ergonomics (OSHA)
- Introduction to Human Factors and Ergonomics
- Occupational Safety and Health for Technologists, Engineers, and Managers
- Occupational Ergonomics: A Practical Approach
- Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders and Ergonomics
- Understanding Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDS)