Safety First: Focusing on Workplace Ergonomics

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 29, 2015 8:00:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

Ergonomic injuries in the workplace are a significant problem, accounting for one-third of all days away from work injury cases in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What, exactly, are ergonomic injuries? They are musculoskeletal injuries or disorders – injuries that affect muscles, nerves, and tendons – such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and back, shoulder, and neck injuries, as well as other sprains and strains. They can be caused by factors that include lifting, bending, reaching, pushing, pulling, working in awkward body postures, and repetitive postures or movements in the course of an employee's daily work.

Distribution of Injuries for Private Sector Occupations, 2013 
Preventing Ergonomic Injuries in The Workplace

Reducing the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries in your workplace means focusing on workplace ergonomics. Ergonomics is most simply defined as fitting the job environment and conditions to the worker to reduce undue stress on that worker as they perform the essential functions of the job. Creating an ergonomic workplace begins with identifying ergonomic risk factors within that workplace. Among the most common risk factors are jobs in which employees are working in static positions – especially awkward or repetitive body positions, or those in which repetitive motions or tasks are an issue.

These and other ergonomic risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries are most accurately identified via a workplace ergonomics assessment. Performed by workplace health and safety professionals, these evaluations aid in injury prevention by identifying risky or stressful work practices before they cause injuries, or identifying ergonomic risk factors at the root of injuries that have already occurred in order to prevent further incidents.

Once those risk factors have been identified, your health and safety professional will present you with a list of recommendations for improving them. This may include simple administrative changes, such as providing at-risk workers with more frequent work breaks to stretch, rest, and recover; a policy of job rotation; and ergonomics education and training for workers and supervisors, among other interventions. Engineering changes may also be among those recommendations, such as modifications of jobs and workplace equipment to reduce awkward postures and maintain safe, healthy range of motion in vulnerable joints.

Designing your workplace around ergonomic principles can, according to OSHA, reduce the number and severity of musculoskeletal injuries resulting from physical overexertion, as well as their associated costs. Improved workplace safety also has benefits besides the obvious reduction in workers' comp costs, including improved employee retention, since businesses with a culture of safety are often rated "better places to work" by employees and have increased employee morale, satisfaction, and productivity – all of which are good for both your workers and your bottom line.

Ten Tips for Office Ergonomics


Topics: Injury Prevention

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.