Ergonomic health in the workplace refers to foundations and systems that keep employees healthy and safe while on duty. This includes addressing how positions and situations affect the body, from sitting at a desk all day to lifting multiple heavy boxes. Poor ergonomics can create musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which affect muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons. There are three main risk factors that cause MSDs—posture, force, and frequency. Case Western Reserve University describes these risk factors below:
- Posture– Joints can absorb force more easily when in neutral posture. Awkward and extreme postures increase susceptibility to injury because they may stress joint components and reduce or block blood flow.
- Force – Placing additional force on the body’s joints by gripping, pinching, pushing, pulling, and lifting objects requires additional muscle exertion and loads joints and connective tissues. This can cause fatigue and may contribute to MSD if there is inadequate time for rest and recovery.
- Frequency– Higher frequency of awkward postures and/or forces increases the potential for damage to a joint.
Common MSDs seen in the workplace include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, epicondylitis, trigger finger, muscle strains, and low back injuries. OHSA states these work-related MSDs can be prevented by fitting the right jobs to the right people and making sure employers are creating the safest workplace for their employees. Here are some ways employers can make that happen:
- Provide Training – Training on ergonomics goes beyond teaching employees about safe practices. It includes open communication about concerns, coming up with solutions for reducing risk factors, and instructing on properly reporting early signs of MSDs or any other issues. It’s important employees and employers both know how to identify potential problems.
- Support from Management – Management teams need to define clear objectives in regard to ergonomic health and discuss them clearly with employees. Management teams need to ensure job duties are assigned to the appropriate staff members as well as communicate expectations clearly.
- Make Sure Workers are on Board – Management teams can get feedback from workers on what hazards they typically encounter and what processes are consistently strenuous on their bodies. By listening to employees, employers can evaluate appropriate changes. This keeps everyone safe while also showing employees that their health is a top priority.
- Encourage Early Reporting of Issues – Often employees are nervous to report a concern. They don’t want pushback from other employees or their management. But the opposite needs to be true. Employees should not only feel safe to report any concern but also encouraged to do so. This provides confidence in the worker as well as helps prevent lost time claims due to more serious injuries.
- Implement Solutions and Monitor Progress – Once solutions have been implemented, assign someone in the management team to monitor the results. Sometimes an initial solution may not end up being the best option, and that’s okay. It’s likely adjustments will need to be made to make sure healthy changes are successful.