Ergonomics is defined as the study of work.
“More specifically, ergonomics is the science of designing the job to fit the worker, rather than physically forcing the worker’s body to fit the job.” (Ergonomics: The Study of Work)
According to the CDC…
“The goal of ergonomics is to reduce stress and eliminate injuries and disorders associated with the overuse of muscles, bad posture, and repeated tasks. This is accomplished by designing tasks, work spaces, controls, displays, tools, lighting, and equipment to fit the employee´s physical capabilities and limitations.”
Understanding the Problem
In 2008, according to US Department of Labor and Statistics, work-related musculoskeletal disorders like nerve damage from typing and injuries from improper lifting accounted for 30% of all worker compensation claims. That’s over 317,000 claims costing employers millions of dollars.
Musculoskeletal disorders occur in soft tissues like muscles, tendons, blood vessels, ligaments, and nerves. Common injuries include back pain, chronic soreness, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and hernias.
Injuries to soft tissues occur most often from repetitive tasks involving frequent movements rather than from improper methods and accidents. For example, a job involving typing all or most of the day can eventually result in carpal tunnel syndrome because of the repetitiveness of the task for extended periods of time.
Symptoms and Treatment
General symptoms of repetitive strain disorders include…
- Pain and/or discomfort that fails to recede after a couple of days
- Swelling, stiffness and tight muscles
- Inflexibility and weakness
- Numbness, tingling and a feeling of pins and needles
Ergonomics helps prevent and treat these disorders. Treatment of advanced cases includes rest, braces, physical therapy and even surgery. The earlier ergonomics are employed; however, the less likely these treatments will be needed.
Jobs most likely to cause repetitive strain injuries are ones with one or more of a variety of risk factors. Those factors include jobs where a worker is subjected to the following:
- High force. Lifting/carrying or pushing/pulling a heavy load.
- High repetition. Doing the same type of work all day. Continually using the same limbs or muscle groups. Examples include pushing a button continuously throughout the day and standing in one place or sitting upright for an extended period time.
- Awkward posture. Examples include bent wrists when using a tool, the back bent forward or twisted, or the neck bent up, down or to the side.
- Overhead work with arms held above shoulder height.
- Static work with tools held steady for long periods of time.
- Vibration when operating machinery (drill, grinder, etc.). Also, driving equipment over rough terrain (dump truck drivers for example).
- Contact stress caused when the end of a tool or perhaps a piece of machinery constantly pushes against a part of the body. One example is using a screwdriver for long periods of time.
- Constant exposure to cold. Examples include food service workers handling frozen food and construction workers outside in winter.
Companies continually address repetitive strain injury in one way or another. Some figure out that preventing those issues is the most effective approach.
Understanding Ergonomics, Part 2 focuses on how to do just that by discussing how to implement and maximize ergonomics. It also includes information on applying ergonomics outside of a typical workplace.