Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders

Eliminate Issues with Ergonomics

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.

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.

Musculoskeletal disorders

Static postures or positions a worker must hold for a long period of time can restrict blood flow and damage muscles.

  • 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
  • Vibration
  • Cold temperatures
  • Inadequate recovery time due to overtime, lack of breaks and failure to vary tasks, leave inadequate time for tissue healing

Identifying Potential Issues

Musculoskeletal disorders

Awkward postures, or unsupported positions that stretch physical limits, can compress nerves and irritate tendons.

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 workplace 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.

About the author

Jim Lanz
Jim Lanz

Jim supports our sales team and helps our customers achieve a safe, healthy, and accident-free work environment in his role of Safety Specialist at Horizon Solutions. Jim has over 15 years experience in the field of safety which includes extensive OSHA compliance experience and executing safety programs for manufacturing facilities. Jim is an Authorized OSHA Outreach Instructor, and facilitates safety training classes that involve custom curriculum that meets the specific needs of our customers.