Why Ergonomics Really Matters

ergonomics importance injury prevention at work

In 2014 to 2015, 90% of Australian workers filed serious claims due to musculoskeletal disorders, repetitive strain injuries, and other work-related injuries. Of the total claims, almost 45% was due to traumatic joint-ligament or muscle/tendon injuries.

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) and Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) are complex and are commonly linked to the increasing incapacity rates of Australian workers that result in total absence from work and poor performance.

What causes Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) or Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI)?

Businesses nowadays increasingly require higher production rates and advances in technology to remain competitive. As a result, jobs today can involve:

  • Working at a quicker pace of work requiring faster assembly or packaging line speeds
  • Frequent lifting, pushing or pulling, and carrying heavy loads
  • Use of screen-based equipment causing eye strain
  • Long periods of working in one position
  • Specialization that requires employees to perform only one function

These tasks, if not done with appropriate measures, can increase the risk of illnesses or work-related conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders, vision-related problems, and repetitive strain injuries.

The Following are the Risk Factors for Developing Work-Related Injuries
 

·      Awkward or prolonged posture

·      Repetitive activities

·      Overhead work

·      Vibration

·      Contact stress or compression

·      Extreme temperatures

·      Heavy lifting/ carrying

·      Gripping

·      Push or pull

·       Forceful movements or quick motions

 

 

What parts of the body are most commonly affected by MSDs or RSIs?

MSDs and RSIs can affect almost all tissues and cells in the human body such as the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. These body parts are important for mobility and communication of cells. The most frequently affected sites are the back and the arms.

Risk Factors Symptoms Body Parts Affected People At Risk
Bending, lifting heavy objects Low back pain Back Healthcare aides, nursing assistants, delivery persons, construction workers
Working with hands above the head Shoulder pain, stiffness Shoulder Power press operators, painters, welders, assembly line workers
Repetitive and forceful arm and finger movements Tingling and numbness on arms or fingers, pain on the wrists, loss of strength, decreased sensation Fingers, wrists VDT operators, meat and poultry workers, upholsterers, assemblers, garment workers, cashiers, operators, data encoders
Exposure to vibration Numbness and tingling in hands, loss of sensation and control

 

Hands, fingers, wrists Chainsaw operators, construction workers, pneumatic hammer operators, and gasoline-powered tool workers
Twisting and gripping Pain at the base of the thumbs Thumbs Housekeepers, butchers, seamstresses

 

Work-Related Injuries and Ergonomics

Studies show that by applying the principles of ergonomics, work-related injuries can be prevented.

Ergonomics Defined

The International Ergonomics Association (IEA) defines the word ‘ergonomics’ as the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among humans and other elements of a system; the profession that applies theory, principles, data, and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. In a succinct perspective, ergonomics aims to design technical systems, appliances, and work environment in such a way to improve human health, comfort, safety, and performance.

Health

The diverse aspects of work environment have positive and negative effects on all areas of an individual and company’s well being. All working environments at the extreme will affect people’s health to different levels. These effects can cause increased errors or accidents, uncontrolled stress, injuries, diseases, and chronic pain. Other health issues that may be related to poor ergonomics include:

  • Eye strain
  • Headaches
  • Stiff neck
  • Shoulder pain
  • Back pain
  • Joint pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

 

Diseases of musculoskeletal and psychological illnesses due to stress contribute as the most important triggers of occupational disability and absenteeism or presenteeism. These conditions can be partly ascribed to poor construction of equipment, task, technical systems, and work environment. With ergonomics, companies can have more sustainable workforce with fewer MSD rates and work related illnesses.

Safety

Occurrences such as accidents and disasters at work are often attributed to human error. However, research shows that the real cause of these occurrences is the relationship between the worker and their task or work environment.

Comfort

At an individual level, ergonomics can also serve to the competitive advantage of a company by providing user-friendly work environment. For example, implementing ergonomic improvements such as appropriate height of working tables and appropriate tools can reduce the risk factors that might lead to discomforts. Fewer discomforts, on the other hand, can lead to healthy and pain-free workers who are more likely to be engaged at work and be more productive.

 

Ergonomic Principles
Uncomfortable Better Solutions
 

No neck support or padding under the body

 

 

With neck support and shoulders support

 

 

Seat too small and provides minimal support

 

 

 

 

 

Seat with lumbar support and higher back seat

 

 

 

Bent awkward posture

 

 

 

Relaxed posture with less strain on the back

 

 

 

Performance

Another major influence of the work environment is upon productivity or performances. This can occur indirectly through discomforts, or health problems, and dissatisfaction at work. Examples are productivity losses associated with jobs that are not designed properly or are not constructed in accordance with ergonomic principles. Several work tasks or situations contribute to worker fatigue, strain, or stress and therefore, may result in decreased work performance.

 

Financial Benefits of Ergonomics

A comprehensive program on ergonomics can help save funds and resources for any kind of business. Good ergonomics, is good economics, because it will prevent:

Direct Costs associated with Work-Related Injuries

Good Ergonomics is Good Economics

  • Medical treatment
  • Insurance premiums
  • Prescriptions
  • Physical therapy

Indirect Costs

  • Replacement worker costs
  • Legal and investigation expenses
  • Overtime payment from staff coverage during absence of injured employee
  • Training costs for workers with poor performance
  • Recruiting and advertising costs if the employee resigns due to injury
  • Orientation of new employees

 

Keys to Success – Workplace Ergonomics

In the design of everyday work situations, the employees have always been the focus of ergonomics. With its principles and disciplines, the nature of the work can be well fit to the worker, rather than physically forcing the worker to the potentially hazardous working condition.

A work environment free of ergonomic hazards can accomplish:

  • Lower incidence of work-related injuries
  • Higher productivity rates by creating a comfortable environment for workers
  • Decreased absenteeism and presenteeism rates
  • Improved product quality
  • Reduced turnover as new employees are more likely to stay on ergonomically designed job within their comfort and ability
  • Decreased compensation rates
  • Improved worker safety
  • Reduced worker stress and fatigue
  • Improved worker comfort

 

References:

  • “Ergonomics: The Study of Work.” Home | Occupational Safety and Health Administration. S. Department of Labour Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Web. <http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3125.pdf>.
  • “Disease and injury statistics | Safe Work Australia.” Home | Safe Work Australia. Safe Work Australia, Web. <http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/statistics-and-research/statistics/disease-and-injuries/disease-and-injury-statistics>.
  • “Ergonomics in the Workplace.” Charles Darwin University.Office of Human Resource Services/Health Safety and Environment, Web. <http://www.cdu.edu.au/ohrs/contacts-information/documents/ErgonomicsintheWorkplace.pdf>.
  • “Why Ergonomics In The Workplace Matters | HealthScoop.” Reliable Body Care Products Store | HealthScoop.  <http://www.myhealthscoop.com/the-scoop/ergonomics-workplace-matters/>.
  • “Australian Workers’ Compensation Statistics.” Home | Safe Work Australia. Safe Work Australia, Web. <http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/system/files/documents/1710/australian-workers-compensation-statistics-2015-16.pdf>.
  • “The Advantages of Ergonomics.” State of Oregon: Oregon OSHA – Home. orosha.org , Web. <http://osha.oregon.gov/OSHAPubs/ergo/ergoadvantages.pdf>

 

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