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What You Need to Know About Ergonomics in the Workplace

By Martha Michael

Ergonomics

Though the name sounds like a difficult class you took in college, the concept of ergonomics is fairly simple. From Greek words “ergon” and “nomoi,” which mean “work” and “natural laws,” ergonomics refers to designing the workplace so that it maximizes efficiency. Part of that effort includes creating an atmosphere that’s safe from musculoskeletal injuries.

In the Workplace

Legally and ethically, employers need to provide the healthiest workspace possible for their staff members and ergonomics is a part of that effort, says an article in occupational safety and health magazine EHS Today. The purpose of ergonomic design is to reduce soft tissue injuries stemming from overuse. Some of the most common resulting health issues caused by excessive or repetitive motion include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and sprains.

The Occupational Safety and Health Agency, or OSHA, studied ergonomics for 10 years and concluded that approximately one-third of money spent on workers’ compensation costs were from claims about ergonomic injuries. The total cost resulting from musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, exceeds $50 billion annually.

OSHA provides guidelines for best practices and makes recommendations to steer companies away from typical hazards. The agency advises business owners in various industries including:

  • Retail grocery stores
  • Shipyards
  • Nursing homes
  • Foundries
  • Beverage companies
  • Poultry processing
  • Meatpacking plants

It can be costly for companies to meet all of OSHA’s standards, but it may be burdensome to the bottom line to ignore them. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, says that ergonomic injuries account for one out of every three missing workdays. Their research also claims that employees take more time off work -- a median of 11 days -- from injuries caused by ergonomic problems than other injuries or illnesses.

Industries with the highest risk of musculoskeletal injuries to employees include healthcare, food processing, firefighting, construction, office jobs, and transportation.

Minimize Ergonomic Injuries in the Workplace

OSHA advises business owners to adopt safer workplace practices through the use of effective management tools outlined on the agency’s website.

Management Support

When executives assign responsibilities based on clear objectives, it is easier to hold employees accountable. It increases the chance that middle management stands by its agreement to supervise properly.

Employee Participation

When workers are involved in assessing the conditions of the workplace, effective strategies and solutions are more easily incorporated.

Early Detection

When ergonomic problems in the workplace are detected early, they can be improved before workers incur musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs. Business owners should develop a process for employees to report symptoms as soon as they occur.

Solve and Evaluate

Control hazards by reviewing and analyzing ergonomic challenges, then seek solutions to reduce or eliminate MSDs in the workplace. Put in place an assessment process to continually improve your record for a reduction in ergonomic injuries.

Make Changes to Minimize Musculoskeletal Disorders

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines MSDs as injuries or illnesses involving a pinched nerve; herniated disc; meniscus tear; sprains, strains, tears; hernia; carpal or tarsal tunnel syndrome; Raynaud's syndrome or phenomenon; and musculoskeletal system and connective tissue diseases and disorders, among others.

Certain job descriptions pose a greater chance of ergonomic-related workplace injuries. Some of the conditions listed by OSHA are:

  • Pushing and pulling
  • Reaching overhead
  • Awkward body postures
  • Lifting heavy items
  • Bending over
  • Repeating tasks

Business owners can minimize risks of injuries by paying attention to both the tasks required by employees and the physical workspace. If your workers sit at computer desks in a standard office space, you can make physical changes to improve their safety features. It’s not hard to find furniture with ergonomic advantages that minimize injuries and maximize joint health.

Gear Patrol, a New York City-based print and digital publication, has an article rating various pieces of office furniture and assessing whether they’re designed to maximize safety.

Their favorite office chair is called Knoll ReGeneration, which offers the worker the ability to accommodate posture, weight and tendencies to lean. You can change your posture up to 270 degrees and add lumbar support through its customized system.

New strategies in workplace safety are necessary because of the changes within the workforce, from technology to demographics, the article says. Furniture has to be more adaptable in terms of flexibility of space and agility to accommodate the disparate needs of individuals.

Improving posture in the workplace is always a good idea, but there’s a limited capacity for change. When you’re situated in front of a computer most of the day or have to lean into tools and machinery, your body pays a price.

Regular chiropractic care enables you to treat painful symptoms and maintain spine health despite your work environment. It’s a means to prevent musculoskeletal disorders from occurring and provide relief to workers who have already experienced soft-tissue injuries.

With an ounce of prevention, you gain a pound of cure, especially when it simply isn’t possible to change unhealthy workplace postures. Your chiropractor can also help you develop strategies to offset the effects of certain movements. This type of schooling is practical, immediate and makes you feel good.

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