Ergonomics Aims to Eliminate Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) has designated October as National Ergonomics month! So what is ergonomics and why is it so important? Ergonomics is the science of fitting a job to the worker. Designing work stations and tools to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders helps workers stay healthy and makes for a safer work environment.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders occur when the physical capabilities of the worker do not match the physical requirements of the job. Prolonged exposure to ergonomic risk factors can cause damage to a worker’s body and lead to musculoskeletal disorders. About 1.8 million workers report musculoskeletal disorders each year and include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and back injuries. About 600,000 of those workers need to take time off from work due to those injuries.
Musculoskeletal Disorder Risk Factors
Musculoskeletal disorders can affect nearly all tissue in the body: nerves, tendons, tendon sheaths and muscles. The most frequently affected areas of the body are the arms and back. Prolonged exposure to ergonomic risk factors can cause musculoskeletal disorders. It’s common to think of ergonomic problems being associated with just a computer or mouse, but there are many other repetitive motions that can cause musculoskeletal disorders.
- Exerting excessive force
- Repetition of movements
- Awkward postures, or unsupported positions that stretch physical limits, can compress nerves and irritate tendons
- Static postures, or positions a worker must hold for a long period of time, can restrict blood flow and damage muscles
- Quick motions, such as bending and twisting, can increase the amount of force exerted on the body
- Compression, from grasping sharp edges like tool handles, can concentrate force on small areas of the body, reduce blood flow, nerve transmission and damage tendon sheaths
- Cold temperatures
- Inadequate recovery time due to overtime, lack of breaks and failure to vary tasks, leave inadequate time for tissue healing
Identifying Musculoskeletal Disorders
If your job requires manual handling, heavy lifting, twisting movements, or long hours of working in awkward positions, you are more at risk for developing a musculoskeletal disorder. If you develop numbness in your fingers or thighs, difficulty moving your fingers, stiff joints, and/or back pain, you could have a musculoskeletal disorder. While there are no specific training requirements for ergonomics, employees who have been trained to identify and avoid ergonomic hazards are better able to avoid these hazards and maintain a safer work environment. Keep in mind, OSHA continues to cite ergonomic injuries under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Section 5. All employees are covered by OSHA under this section! So make sure you familiarize yourself with common musculoskeletal disorder signs and symptoms, the risk factors and work activities associated with them, and how to properly report a disorder in the work place if you should experience one.
*Source: Timber Products Manufacturers Association, Ergonomics: An Overview
What ergonomic risk factors are present in your work environment? What steps do you take to reduce your risk of developing a work-related musculoskeletal disorder? Share in the comments below.