Ergonomics and Safety: A Powerful Pairing

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Ergonomics – “The scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, methods and data to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance”.  

Ergonomics = Fitting the job to the worker with respect to Workstations, Tools, Equipment, etc.

Why Ergonomic Safety?

Ergonomics is related to SAFETY, when the principles of ergonomics are applied in the context of workplace safety, the concept of ergonomic safety is born. Ergonomics safety ensures that the products, methods, and environment that the worker uses are appropriate to fit the worker’s job requirements and personal capabilities.

History of Ergonomic Safety: The practice of ergonomics safety principles can be possibly traced back to the early Egyptian, Greek, and Roman dynasties, where findings have shown that tools and other manmade devices (e.g. pulleys, wheels) were created to minimize workload. Aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, people began developing factory machinery with some design principles closer to modern ergonomics. In 1857, Wojciech Jastrzebowski, a Polish scholar, in his publication then coined the term ‘ergonomics’ – which comes from the Greek words ERGON (work or Labor) and NOMOS (Natural Laws).

The modern principles of ergonomics safety became more prevalent during and after World War II as interest in logical human-machine interaction grew and military equipment, machinery, and weaponry became more complex. Human factors need to be considered to ensure that these advanced systems are to be operated safely. Perhaps the most noteworthy development in modern ergonomics safety happened in the field of human-computer interaction, brought on by the explosion of computer usage in the workplace and, soon after, the home.

Importance of Ergonomics in Workplace Safety:

Ergonomic disorders are one of the fastest-growing categories of work-related illness. According to the global labor statistics, 56-63% of illnesses are reported against work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, muscle strains, and low back injuries due to risk factors like high task repetition, forceful exertions, and repetitive awkward postures. Common MSD disorders are “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tennis Elbow, Bursitis, Ischemia, Sciatica, Herniated Discs, Neck strain/disability, Tendinitis, Rotator Cuff, Neuritis, Trigger Finger, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Epicondylitis, Back strain/disability.

Benefits of Ergonomics:

The implementation of ergonomics safety as part of the workplace safety program helps ensure that employees’ capabilities and physical limitations are matched with the right tools and working spaces to ensure comfortable and safe working conditions for them. The benefits of an ergonomics safety program can not only make an impact on the lives of employees, but it can also make a difference in the overall efficiency of the entire organization.

Image Credit: Google Images

Methods to identify and correct Ergonomic Hazards:

Below are some general ergonomic safety tips to help prevent the most prevalent ergonomic hazards:

2. Transporting and Material Handling: Be knowledgeable about body limitations; Provide carts for transporting materials to eliminate lifting;  All loads to be labeled with their weight; When lifting, keep your back straight and lift with your legs; Assign two or more staff to lift heavy objects depending on weight; Lift slowly and carefully; Don’t twist or turn your spine while carrying the load; Use shoulder pads to cushion loads carried on the shoulder; Use knee pads for kneeling tasks; Store materials at waist height to minimize reaching. 9 Design containers with handles for easy gripping.

1. Workstation Improvements: Re-design of workstations to eliminate awkward postures;  Provide adjustable equipment that can be used by workers to allow neutral postures; Maintain good body posture.

3. Staff Scheduling and Training: Rotate workers among different tasks to avoid repetitive motions; Improve the work schedule to minimize excessive overtime that causes fatigue; Increase staff to reduce individual workloads; Provide sufficient employee breaks; Adequate recovery time can reduce fatigue; Provide workers with training on ergonomics policies and procedures.

4. General Housekeeping: Follow good housekeeping practices; Keep floors free of obstruction; Use tools in good condition that fit the hand; Properly maintain power tools to reduce exposure to vibration; Use gloves to protect against vibration and rough surfaces; Always practice proper machine handling.

Major Principles for Ergonomics Improvement:

Follow below 10 ergonomic principles to help reduce injuries and improve productivity in the workplace:

Image Credit: Google Images

Ergonomics Assessments to Improve Health and Safety:

Ergonomic assessments are used to evaluate how individuals use their bodies when interacting with their environment, particularly in a work setting. They involve identifying potential risks and hazards that may lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, muscle strains, and low back injuries which are the most common ergonomic injuries in the workplace. The assessments enable the implementation of ergonomic solutions, such as adjusting workspaces, equipment, and tasks, to minimize physical strain and discomfort while maximizing efficiency. Organizations can develop proper training modules to address all ergonomic practices along with the implementation of software-based assessment tools to manage all ergonomics assessments in one place for record-keeping, and easy tracking which provides visibility and insights to help raise ergonomic safety across the organization.

– Dr. Sailaja is a seasoned HR leader, guest speaker, and enthusiast of sustainable practices.

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