Top Ergonomics Issues in the Workplace
While there are many issues facing ergonomics experts, some are more pressing than others.
Ergonomics is concerned with the lived environment affects the people who interact with it. In workplace settings, this is all about making sure that the job fits the worker, rather than forcing the worker to fit with the job.
Failure to correct ergonomic issues in the workplace can result not only in physical discomfort but also musculoskeletal injuries that can lead to severe disabilities. For employers, this means financial losses in the form of compensation claims and lost workdays.
While there are a variety of ergonomic hazards in any given workplace, some are more pressing than others. Periodically performing reviews of workstations and work practices can help identify existing problems, analyze the underlying issues, and generate solutions.
This can be done by reviewing the company’s OSHA 300 logs, 301 reports, workers’ compensation records, and incident reports. In addition to reviewing illness and injury records, it is necessary to identify potential ergonomic issues that have gone unnoticed or resulted from facility changes before they result in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
To help you get started with identifying and controlling ergonomic hazards in your workplace, let's take a look at some fo the most common ergonomic issues your workers are likely to face.
Back Injury and Back Pain
Lower back pain is a frequently reported ergonomic issue. This is often caused by everyday work activities such as sitting in a poorly designed chair or lifting heavy objects without using a safe lifting technique.
(Learn more in Safe Lifting: Use Your Brain, Not Your Back)
Back-related injuries and pain are commonly reported in operators, fabricators, laborers, professionals in the precision production industry, and occupations in the craft and repair industry. Lower back pain can be reduced with better workplace design, adjusting work schedules and workloads, or implementing programs designed to modify individual factors (such as employee exercise programs).
Sitting for a prolonged period of time at work not only causes back pain but is also one of the main contributing factors for musculoskeletal disorders.
Musculoskeletal disorders can cause damage to the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, or tendons. MSDs is a fairly broad category that encompasses a number of common ergonomic conditions, such as:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Trigger finger
- Strained muscles
People whose job involves heavy lifting, twisting, bending, reaching, stretching, pushing, or tugging heavy loads are at higher risk of musculoskeletal injuries. This includes occupations like nursing, early childhood education, and construction - all of which can involve holding awkward postures and positions while carrying out daily tasks.
(See Risk Factors for Developing Musculoskeletal Disorders to learn more)
MSDs are the most reported injuries and the ones that result in the greatest worker absenteeism. According to the CDC, companies in the United States have spent approximately 45 to 54 billion dollars on costs associated with work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Research conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed that MSDs were the single largest category of workplace injuries, and were responsible for almost 33 percent of all workers’ compensation costs.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are largely preventable. Ergonomics specialists say that showing workers proper procedures and providing aids like back braces will help decrease muscle fatigue. This, in turn, increases productivity and decreases the number and severity of MSDs.
Cumulative Trauma Disorders
Cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) is a category of ergononmic conditions that include repetitive strain injuries, repetitive motion disorders, and overuse syndrome. It refers to an injury that results from the body's inability to complete its muscles natural contractions and relaxations.
Cumulative trauma disorders results from work that places repeated stress is placed on tendons, muscles, and sensitive nerve tissue. This causes inflammation or muscle damage.
Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) result from work events that are non-accidents. For instance, poor posture, repetitive movement, or prolonged sitting or standing causing pain.
Repetitive motion injuries (RMIs), on the other hand, are caused by repeated motion. For instance, carpal tunnel syndrome and neck stress from scanning items or typing.
The most common CTDs include:
- Inflammation of the tendons (tendinitis)
- Inflammation of the synovial sheath (tendonsynovitis)
- Compression of the median nerve, when there is swelling of tendons and sheaths, or repeated wrist bending (carpal tunnel)
The risk of CTDs increases with bad work habits, such as holding a poor posture or spending too long at a work station without any breaks.
The following symptoms are observed in people with CTDs:
- Fingers, palms, fingers, wrists, legs, or hands feel numb, tingly, or “asleep”
- Hands or feet feel achy, throbbing, or in pain
- 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
Cumulative trauma injuries (CTI) include head and upper body, and arm and back injuries. These can be cumulative or single incident mishaps. Together, they affect such parts as muscles, tendons, and ligaments. They are caused by repetitive mentally or physically traumatic activities that happen over a time period such as days or even years.CTIs are caused by prolonged postures like sitting, standing, kneeling, and repeated movements. CTIs result in overloaded muscles, which cannot recover. Examples of CTI include carpal tunnel syndrome, back injuries, tendonitis, tennis and golfers elbow, Raynaud’s syndrome, and rotator cuff tendonitis.