Protecting workers with an ergonomics program
Date Posted: 04/17/2019
Workers in many different occupations can be exposed to ergonomic risk factors, such as lifting, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward positions, and performing repetitive tasks. These activities increase the risk of injury and can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time.
Ergonomics is the science of arranging the work environment to fit the person. It involves looking at the work station, the tools, the motions of the work performed, the worker's physical capabilities and limitations, and environmental conditions. The idea is to design and control the factors involved so the worker performs the job efficiently and safely.
What do the regulations say?
While OSHA has no specific standards for ergonomics, the Agency could issue a citation under the General Duty Clause for recognized hazards. While OSHA does have some burdens to meet before citing an ergonomic hazard, the Agency also says it will not focus enforcement efforts on employers that are making good-faith efforts to reduce ergonomic hazards.
Of course, taking steps to minimize the risk of injury can not only help keep you off the enforcement radar — it can prevent your employees from getting hurt! Taking a proactive approach is as simple as looking around the workplace, talking to employees about the physical aspects of doing their jobs, and asking questions.
Types of controls
Engineering controls are the preferred means of controlling or reducing ergonomic hazards, and include solutions such as rearranging, modifying, redesigning, or replacing tools, equipment, and/or work stations.
Administrative controls are used to reduce the duration, frequency, and severity of exposure to ergonomic stressors. Examples include job rotation, shift length and overtime management, rest breaks, and adjustments of production rates and number of employees assigned.
Personal protective equipment is used to reduce exposure to ergonomics-related risk factors. Examples include using knee pads or vibration-reducing gloves.
Tips for ergonomic success
- Encourage employees to report symptoms or injuries related to MSDs, including carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder pain, muscle strains, and back injuries. The earlier they report potential problems, the sooner you can address the concern — and hopefully prevent a more serious condition from developing.
- Establish engineering and/or administrative controls to reduce ergonomic risk factors.
- Involve employees in work-site assessments, solution development, and implementation.
- Provide personal protective equipment including knee pads, vibration reducing gloves, and similar devices.
- Provide training for employees to ensure they are aware of ergonomics and its benefits.
- Periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the ergonomic process (from reporting of symptoms to the effectiveness of engineering or administrative controls) to ensure its continuous improvement and long-term success.