The loose definition of ergonomics is “the study of working people.” Ergonomics is a broad term that has applications in any workplace. Most often, the goal of ergonomic study is to discover how employees can work with safety in mind, e.g., to prevent injuries caused by work. Ergonomics is also loosely used to describe the behaviors that result from ergonomic studies, such as changing to a work chair that supports your body more effectively. In this article, we’ll discuss how to improve ergonomics in the workplace.
What is Ergonomics in the Workplace?
Ergonomics in the workplace is what people do to prevent injury and work more effectively. According to OSHA, about one-third of all worker’ compensation costs are due to ergonomic injuries. That totals about 18 billion dollars every year. The most common injury that ergonomics wants to prevent is musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Here are some examples of poor ergonomics in the workplace.
1. Using excessive force in a structurally unsound way, for example, lifting something heavy using your back.
2. Overuse of repetitive motions such as typing for eight hours with poor posture.
3. Being in an awkward position that puts undue stress on your major joints, such as your back or knees. This includes sitting, standing, kneeling, squatting, and bending for too long or with incorrect form.
4. Direct pinch points or localized pressure, such as sitting with legs crossed, having machinery resting on one part of your body, or even something as simple as forearms resting on a desk. This pinches nerves and restricts blood supply to the affected area.
5. Working in cold environments, such as an over-airconditioned office or in a refrigerated area, increases the risk of injuries.
6. Using excessive vibrations such as with power tools can damage the small blood vessels in the hands and arms, making it harder to control the tool.
7. Combined risk factors lead to an exponential increase in injury risk.
Signs of poor ergonomics in your workforce include back and neck pain, eye strain, headaches, fatigue, MSDs, carpal tunnel syndrome, and shoulder pain.
Tips for Improving Ergonomics in the Workplace?
Improving ergonomics in the workplace has a myriad of benefits. First and foremost, safety is increased, so the risk (and cost) of injuries is lowered. Other benefits include increased morale and greater productivity. Here are some tips for improving your workplace’s ergonomics.
1. Do an in-depth assessment of your workplace’s ergonomics. A standard or more superficial examination may not give the complete picture with enough detail to make successful changes. The most important aspect of an in-depth assessment is direct communication with workers. They are the experts on what they’re doing and how it’s making them feel.
2. Next, choose the best safety equipment. This step entirely relies on the previous process. Without enough accurate information, you won’t know what equipment is necessary, which could leave gaps in ergonomic care. You are looking for items that improve posture, support heavy labor and physically taxing activities and prevent developing or worsening MSDs. Common examples of appropriate safety equipment are:
- Office chairs that are ergonomically designed for workers who sit for long periods.
- Gel or foam mats to support workers who are doing a lot of standing.
- Lumbar support cushions.
- Tools or machinery to make moving heavy objects easier. For example, a moving company might invest in higher quality dollies or a small lift to move heavy items more safely.
- Wrist supports for typing and using the computer for long periods.
- Knee pads, back braces, and other tools to support the back and joints.
- Ergonomically designed mouses to support wrist posture.
3. Make sure you account for different employee heights.
This is essential for any workplace. Employees of different heights will require adjustments to their desks and office chairs to work with correct posture. Step stools and small ladders may be necessary to help employees reach high shelves, etc. And a fixed workstation will require accommodations for those who are shorter or taller than the station was designed for. Adjustable tables are a common fix for these situations, and prevent employees from working in uncomfortable positions for long periods.
4. Create a culture of movement and support.
Let your employees know they aren’t expected to stay in one position, especially if it’s uncomfortable, for long periods. Also, providing items such as adjustable desks so workers can alternatively stand or sit, leaning apparatuses, and ergonomic stools tells your employees that their physical safety is important to your organization.
5. Engage in ongoing communication with your workers.
Asking your workers what works ergonomically for them and what doesn’t is an ongoing conversation. Create a plan for regular check-ins, so that arising ergonomic issues are adequately addressed and injuries are prevented.
Healthy Ergonomics in the Workplace with BioFunctional Health Solutions (BHS)
Here at BHS we are experts in assisting organizations like yours to develop healthy ergonomic practices. We know that poor ergonomics cause unnecessary suffering and financial expenditures. Wherever you are on your journey of injury prevention and safety, we can help you create a custom, effective plan for your organization. Reach out to us today to get started!