Defining Ergonomics

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

According to the US Bureau of Labor 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 311,840 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.

Woman With Sore Wrist and Hand

Injuries to soft tissues often occur from repetitive tasks involving frequent movements rather than 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.

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 surgery. The earlier ergonomics are employed; however, the less likely these treatments will be needed.

High-Risk Jobs

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, standing in one place, or sitting upright for an extended period.

Man Using Screw Gun

  • 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.
  • Vibration when operating machinery (drill, grinder, etc.). Also, driving equipment over rough terrain (dump truck drivers, for example).
  • Contact stress is 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.
  • Constant exposure to cold. Examples include food service workers handling frozen food and construction workers outside in winter.

Companies continually address repetitive strain injuries 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.