A special thank you to Lista for guest-blogging the article below!
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), musculoskeletal disorders (carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, muscle strains, lower back injuries, etc.) are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries and illnesses. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates musculoskeletal disorders accounted for roughly 33% of all worker injury and illness cases reported in 2011.
So what can companies do to make employee health and safety a priority? Applying ergonomic principles, the study of the workplace as it relates to the worker, is one solution that can pay off in a very big way for both the employee and the company.
Here’s a closer look at how to implement ergonomics:
Identify the risks to make tasks safer for workers
The first step in addressing ergonomic concerns in the workplace is to review work tasks for risk factors. Do employees sit at a desk or workstation for prolonged periods of time and develop poor posture? Do they stand in an assembly line making quick motions (i.e., bending and twisting), which can irritate tendons and put increased pressure on the nerves?
Assessing the risks and modifying tools and the work environment is a critical step in making tasks safer for workers. For example, a dental technician working in the lab might benefit from making the switch to LED lighting, which can promote healthy vision and ease the symptoms of Presbyopia, a natural change in vision that occurs with age and interferes with the ability to focus on objects.
Make adjustments to promote workplace productivity
After the safety risks have been identified, the next step is to remove the barriers to productivity by making adjustments that promote healthy behaviors. This involves rearranging workstation elements for maximum safety and productivity. Regardless of physical characteristics or the tasks being performed, employees should be able to make adjustments to work surface height or change the elevation of work shelves and work surfaces to increase comfort and ease of use.
For employees who stand throughout the day, an ergonomic adjustment might include proper support (i.e., anti-fatigue and/or non-slip mats, depending on the operation) for concrete floors. Employees who sit during the day, on the other hand, might benefit from good sitting posture, proper seat height, and chairs with lumbar support for the most ergonomic comfort and safety.
Design the workstation to meet the specific needs of the employee
Perhaps the most important component of ergonomics involves designing the workstation to meet the specific needs of the employee. Rather than physically forcing an employee’s body to fit the tasks required for a particular job, adapting tasks, workstations, tools, and equipment to fit the worker can greatly reduce physical stress to the employee’s body as well as eliminate potentially serious workplace strains or injuries.
In a warehouse environment, for example, developing an efficient packing station might involve determining a workflow pattern for the packing table and making sure all supplies are within easy reach of the operator. Making an easy adjustment such as this not only requires the least worker movement possible, but it also increases productivity, since tired employees tend to make more mistakes and get injured more easily.
As noted by OSHA, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. For this reason, it’s critical for companies to evaluate their work environments for ergonomic factors to drive both productivity and safety, a practice that can prove beneficial for employers and individual employees alike.