Tips for an effective ergonomic program

Date Posted: 03/14/2022

Ergonomics ProgramRepetitive motions and overexertion are among the top five causes of injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (right after falls, struck by, and struck against injuries). These include musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) to soft tissues like muscles, tendons, and ligaments as well as nerves of the limbs, neck, and lower back.

High-risk industries include construction, manufacturing, healthcare, warehousing, and even office jobs. Employers can significantly reduce MSDs by applying ergonomic principles.

Recognizing hazards

First, survey the workplace for risks. To increase employee support, involve workers in the risk evaluations, and get their input when developing and implementing solutions.

To help identify problem areas, watch for workers trying to modify their tools or work areas. Also, if workers are shaking their hands or rolling their shoulders, they probably have ergonomic issues.

Some common risk factors include:

  • Awkward postures such as repeated or prolonged reaching, twisting, bending, kneeling, working overhead, or holding fixed positions.
  • Forceful exertions such as lifting, pushing and pulling, or gripping to control equipment or tools. Related factors include the type of grip, object weight, body posture, and duration of the task.
  • Contact stress from pressing a body part against a hard or sharp edge, like using the palm as a hammer.
  • Repetitive motions, though risk varies based on the duration, speed of movement, and force applied.
  • Vibration usually involves operating tools or equipment such as sanders, grinders, chippers, routers, drills, and saws.
     

Applying ergonomic principles

After identifying and prioritizing risks, define clear goals and objectives, discuss them with workers, and assign responsibilities to designated staff members.

The first priority is to eliminate or minimize risk factors using engineering and work practice controls such as worker rotation, task variety, and increased rest breaks. Where these aren’t feasible, consider protective equipment such as knee pads or vibration reducing gloves.

Train employees to work smoothly, without jerky movements. Movements should be consistent and sustainably comfortable over time. Increasing speed tends to increase risk also. In addition, make sure workers can recognize the early warning signs of developing injuries, and establish a process to report any symptoms.

Finally, establish a process to periodically assess the effectiveness of the program and provide for continuous improvement. Addressing ergonomic hazards is an ongoing process but will lead to long-term success.

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