It has become increasingly clear that workers in many industries are at ergonomic risk. This can lead to them doing painful and irreparable damage to their bodies. While this has long been true, it’s now a major concern for companies because workers are taking legal action against their employers for routinely making them work in inherently ergonomically risky workstations and courts and judges are awarding them large judgements. Further, wise and caring employers and concerned employees want to make sure workspaces and working conditions are not ergonomically risky and prevent work-related physical ailments from developing.
Assessing Ergonomic Risk
There are several things employers and employees can look at in the workplace to determine if spending 8 hours a day there puts the employee at great ergonomic risk. This ergonomic risk assessment can be accurately made by answering the following questions.
1. What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics is an applied science that is concerned with the design and arrangement of workspaces to ensure workers can do their jobs safely, effectively and efficiently. This area of applied science is sometimes referred to as biotechnology, human engineering or the focus on human factors in the design and arrangement of furniture and equipment.
2. What is ergonomics in the workplace?
Ergonomics in the workplace is making sure the design of the workstations doesn’t lead to unavoidable injuries to the workers and limit their productivity. Thoughtful arrangement of the tools and equipment in the workstation improves workplace ergonomics. Proper workplace ergonomics requires ensuring when the worker is seated, their feet can be flat on the floor and their hips held at an angle of between 90 and 120 degrees. For workers using computers, the height and angle of their chair, keyboard and monitor must be able to be adjusted to optimal positions for comfort and productivity.
3. What characteristics in the workstation improve employee well-being?
Ideally, it should be practical for employees to periodically stand while continuing to work. For employees using computers, the top of the monitor or screen should be level with their eyes. Plus, it’s best for the worker if the screen is at least 50 cm from their eyes and their wrists can remain flat when they’re typing. Further, the worker’s upper arms should be parallel to their torso and their shoulders should be relaxed. Items they use most should all be within easy reach. Those factors all help to improve the ergonomics of an employee’s workspace.
4. What are the dangers of poor ergonomics in the workplace?
Poorly designed workstations can cause worker fatigue and frustration. This leads to painful musculoskeletal injuries, lower productivity, as well as poor product quality. The most common workplace ergonomic risk factors are high task repetition done using forceful exertions in sustained awkward postures. That combination overloads muscles and tendons, puts excessive strain on joints and increases the likelihood of musculoskeletal fatigue and serious injury. The risk of injury is increased if workers don’t take adequate rest breaks.
To ensure employee workspaces are ergonomic, regular, ongoing, objective, scientific risk identification and reduction tests should be performed. Trained inspectors should see if workers regularly take awkward posture, use excessive force and put unsafe amounts of stress on their joints while performing their assigned tasks. Failure to do so can cause an ergonomic nightmare that endangers the health of the worker, lower the quality and quantity of their work and damage the company’s reputation.
5. What is an ergonomically-friendly workplace?
An ergonomically friendly workplace is one that uses proper workspace design and production techniques to protect worker health and enhance the quality of their work. But healthy, productive, workplaces don’t happen by accident. They require collaboration between the employers and employees to do what’s best for the long-term health of the workers and the success of the company.
An ergonomically-friendly workplace is one where regular, objective, scientific workplace analysis using ergonomic risk measuring tools are used to conduct ergonomic assessments that are accurate. Plus, engineering and administrative controls should be implemented. Engineering controls use ergonomic modifications to reduce or eliminate awkward postures. Administrative controls set procedures and processes like counteractive stretch breaks, proper body mechanics, job rotation and work practice controls to reduce the risk of MSD injury.
6. How many hours of working in a standing position is safe?
Creating an ergonomically positive workplace is also essential for workers who spend long periods of time on their feet. According to the organization Occupational Health & Safety, standing for long periods while working leaves people susceptible to hospitalization with varicose veins. Frequently changing positions from standing to sitting to walking, works best. It’s not recommended workers remain static standing or sitting if they want the most ergonomic position.
Standing for prolonged periods
Workers whose jobs call for standing for prolonged periods often have to endure heel pain and foot arch pain that may require visits to a podiatrist. Those workers who work standing and have pre-existing heart disease are more susceptible to being hospitalized with carotid atherosclerosis. Sufficient breaks, proper posture and good ergonomic practices can protect the health and reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders in workers that stand or sit for long periods at work.
Poor ergonomics in the workplace negatively impacts workers’ health and their employers’ bottom line. With a clear understanding of the importance of proper ergonomics in the workplace, diligence and regular inspections, concerned employers and employees can dramatically reduce ergonomic risk and create better workplace ergonomics.