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 a worker uses are appropriate to fit the worker’s job requirements and personal capabilities.
How did Ergonomics Safety Develop?
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.
Fast forward to the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, people began developing factory machinery with some design principles closer to how we practice modern ergonomics. In 1857, Wojciech Jastrzebowski, a Polish scholar, then coined the term ‘ergonomics’ – which comes from the Greek words ergon (work or labor) and nomos (natural laws) – in his publication.
The modern principles of ergonomics safety became more prevalent during 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 taken into account to ensure that these advanced systems are to be operated safely.
When World War II concluded, research on ergonomics and safety continued to expand as more and more technological advancements were introduced. 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.
Why is Ergonomics Important in Workplace Safety?
Ergonomic disorders are the fastest-growing category of work-related illness. According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they account for 56-63 percent of illnesses reported to OSHA. Further, around two million work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) also occur yearly in the United States alone.
Many of these are caused by ergonomic work-related injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome alone, tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, muscle strains, and low back injuries due to risk factors like high task repetition, forceful exertions, and repetitive awkward postures.
What are the 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. Here are some of the most notable benefits of ergonomic safety in the workplace:
Helps reduce costs
By systematically reducing ergonomic risk factors, you can prevent costly MSDs. With approximately $1 out of every $3 in workers’ compensation costs attributed to MSDs, this represents an opportunity for significant cost savings.
Helps prevent other incidents and injuries
Workers who experience discomfort on the job may find shortcuts or workarounds that could result in incidents and injuries such as slips, falls, and lacerations. Implementing an ergonomics program and encouraging workers to report ergonomic issues early helps prevent MSDs as well as other common workplace incidents.
Improves overall productivity
Healthy employees are your most valuable asset; creating and fostering the safety & health culture at your company will lead to improved productivity for your organization. Effective ergonomic safety programs can promote good posture at all times, less exertion, fewer motions, and better heights and reaches, thus helping employees to work more comfortably and efficiently in their workstations.
Helps foster employee engagement and satisfaction
Employees notice when the company is putting forth its best efforts to ensure their health and safety. It shows your company’s commitment to safety and health as a core value. If an employee does not experience fatigue and discomfort during their workday, it can reduce turnover, decrease absenteeism, improve morale, and increase employee involvement.
How to Spot and Correct Ergonomic Hazards
Here are some general ergonomic safety tips to help prevent the most prevalent ergonomic hazards:
- Redesign workstations to eliminate awkward postures.
- Provide adjustable equipment that can be used by workers to allow neutral postures.
- Maintain good body posture.
When transporting and handling
- Be knowledgeable about body limitations.
- Provide carts for transporting materials to eliminate lifting.
- Require 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.
- Design containers with handles for easy gripping.
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.
- Follow good housekeeping practices.
- Keep floors free of obstruction.
- Use tools in good condition that fits 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.
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How to Improve Ergonomics: 10 Principles
Follow these 10 ergonomic principles to help reduce injuries and improve productivity tasks in the workplace.
1. Joints must be in a neutral position
In the neutral position the muscles and ligaments, which span the joints, are stretched to the least possible extent
2. Keep work close to the body
If the work is too far from the body, the arms will be outstretched and the trunk bent over forwards
3. Avoid bending forward
The further the trunk of the upper body is bent forward, the harder it is for the muscles and ligaments of the back to maintain the upper body in balance.
4. A twisted trunk strains the back
Twisted postures of the trunk cause undesirable stress to the spine.
5. Alternate posture as well as movements
No posture or movement should be maintained for a long period of time. Prolonged postures and repetitive movements are tiring.
6. Avoid excessive reaches
It is necessary to limit the extent of forward and sideways reaches to avoid having to bend over or twist the trunk
7. Avoid carrying out tasks above shoulder level
The hands and elbows should be well below shoulder level when carrying out a task
8. Limit the weight of a load that is lifted
Be guided on weight limits
9. Avoid carrying loads with one hand
When only one hand is used to carry a load, the body is subject to mechanical
10. Use mechanical aids
Many lifting accessories are available to help lift and move loads
Improve Health and Safety with Ergonomics Assessments
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, muscle strains, and low back injuries are the most common ergonomic injuries in the workplace. Performing ergonomic risk assessments will help identify possible causes of these injuries that will help to plan immediate actions to mitigate ergonomic risks.
SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) is an inspection software that provides visibility and insights to help raise ergonomic safety across the organization. With SafetyCulture, a competent person can record ergonomic issues found in the workplace and immediately send reports using a mobile device anytime, anywhere. Ergonomic assessments are automatically stored in the cloud which makes it easier to access, review, and share within the organization.
FAQs About Ergonomics Safety
The three types or dimensions of ergonomics are physical ergonomics, cognitive ergonomics, and organizational ergonomics. Physical ergonomics focuses on the interactions between people and their work environment, while cognitive ergonomics deals with the mental processes involved in performing tasks, including designing systems that facilitate learning, decision-making, and problem-solving. Organizational ergonomics, meanwhile, aims to optimize organizational systems and processes to enhance overall efficiency and productivity.
There are five aspects of ergonomics that should be observed in workplace design to optimize productivity and prevent injuries: safety, comfort, ease of use, performance, and aesthetics. These elements work together to ensure that the workplace is designed with the user in mind, and can contribute to increased productivity for both the individual and the business.
Although there’s no specific requirement on its frequency, it is recommended that ergonomic assessments be conducted at least once a year or whenever there is a significant change in the work environment or the individual’s job tasks. Employers are also encouraged to promote employees reporting any discomfort they experience so that ergonomic assessments can be conducted promptly.
Ergonomic safety assessments can be conducted by trained professionals such as certified ergonomists, occupational health and safety specialists, physical therapists, or other professionals with expertise in ergonomics. Additionally, some employers may have designated personnel trained in ergonomics who can conduct assessments in-house.