Ergonomics aims to understand the implications of an environment’s effect on human beings. Ergonomics investigates how to ensure that the job fits the worker, rather than forcing the worker to fit the job. The study of work results in solutions that can help prevent work-related injuries and unhealthy practices.
While there are many issues facing ergonomics experts, some are more pressing than others. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) reviews of the workplace done periodically on workstations and work practices can help identify existing problems, analyze issues, and generate solutions.
Failure to correct ergonomic issues can result in worker injuries, compensation claims, disability costs and/or lost workdays.
A frequently reported ergonomic issue is lower back pain. This is often caused by such every-day work activities such as sitting in a chair not suited to your body or lifting heavy objects using an improper lifting technique.
Two types of work place conditions cause workers to experience back pain. These are:
- Repetitive stress injuries (RSI) that are the result of work events that are non-accidents. Poor posture, repetitive movement, or prolonged sitting or standing causes pain.
- Repetitive motion injuries (RMI) caused by repeated motion such as carpal tunnel injury and neck stress from scanning items or typing.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) cause damage to the worker’s muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and/or tendons. Some workers have greater exposure to MDSs and are, thus, at greater risk. Those who do heavy lifting, twisting, bending, reaching, stretching, pushing and/or tugging heavy loads often sustain injuries resulting from accidents such as slipping, or falling. Some occupations including nurse, daycare worker, childcare worker, construction worker also have injuries because they have awkward body postures in performing their daily tasks. Musculoskeletal Disorders can include injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff injuries, trigger finger, tendinitis, epicondylitis, lower back injuries and/or strained muscles.
MSD injuries are the most reported and injuries that cause the greatest worker absenteeism. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that these injuries account for one in every three worker reported injuries.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are largely preventable. Ergonomics specialists say that showing workers proper procedures and providing worker aids like back braces will help decrease muscle fatigue. This, in turn, increases productivity and decreases the number and severity of MSDs.
Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their workers. In the workplace, applying ergonomic principals can substantially reduce the number and severity of MSDs resulting from physical overexertion and their associated costs.
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Implementing an ergonomic process is effective in reducing the risk of developing MSDs in high-risk industries as diverse as construction, food processing, firefighting, office jobs, healthcare, transportation and warehousing. The following are important elements of an ergonomic process:
Cumulative trauma disorders (CTD) are a result of the body’s inability to complete natural body movements of contracting and relaxing muscles. Tendons normally glide back and forth inside synovial sheaths, which lubricate them with synovial fluid. Cumulative trauma disorders occur when work places repeated stress on tendons, muscles, and/or nerves. The result is inflammation or damage.
The most common CTDs include:
- Inflammation of the tendons (tendinitis)
- Inflammation of the synovial sheath (tendonsynovitis)
- Compression of the median nerve is compressed, when there is swelling of tendons and sheaths or repeated wrist bending (carpal tunnel)
Certain work movements like prolonged time typing or operating a mouse produce CTDs. Other negative work habits causing CTDs include prolonged and/or poor posture where—for example—the spine isn’t straight or wrists or knees are bent. Another habit that causes CTDs is prolonged time at a workstation, such as a keyboard or screen with few—if any—breaks or posture changes.
You might have CTDs if you notice these symptoms:
- Fingers, palms, fingers, wrists, legs, and/or hands feel numb, tingly or “asleep”
- Hands or feet feel achy, throbbing, or painful
- Hands or fingers feel weak or poorly coordinated
- Feelings of sharp pain, tingling, burning, or numbness wakes you or keeps you awake at night
- Discomfort in the hands, which wakes you up at night
Cumulative trauma injuries (CTI) include head and upper body, arm and back injuries. These can be cumulative or single incident mishaps. Together, they affect such parts as muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments.CTIs are caused by prolonged postures like sitting, standing, kneeling and/or repeated movements. CTIs result in overloaded muscles, which cannot recover.