Ergonomic Hazards...An Overview
Ergonomics is the study of worker efficiency in their working environment. With a focus on optimization and safety, it is about fitting workplace conditions and demands around the worker, rather than the worker around the workplace. The end goal of ergonomics is to reduce worker injury and fatigue while increasing comfort and productivity. Although ergonomics addresses a variety of specific hazards, the main concern is the effects of job motions on the worker’s musculoskeletal system. Some ergonomic hazards in the work place can be immediate, such as pulling a back muscle while lifting a heavy item. Other ergonomic hazards can be gradual, such as developing carpal tunnel syndrome from years of typing at a keyboard. Regardless of the situation, ergonomic hazards in the workplace can be reduced by assessing workplace conditions, identifying the existing ergonomic hazards and instituting a combination of administrative and engineering controls to reduce motions that cause stress on the body.
Administrative Controls to Reduce Ergonomic Hazards
Administrative controls are changes in company policies, rules, schedules and training to reduce ergonomic hazards. Generally, these controls reduce hazards by changing worker behavior, rather than eliminating the hazard. Some examples of administrative controls to reduce ergonomic hazards include:
- Reducing the risk of injury by enacting company health initiatives to increase the physical fitness of workers.
- Placing restrictions on the amount of weight a worker is permitted to lift without assistance or lifting equipment.
- Increasing the number and/or duration of required breaks during strenuous work activities or extreme environmental conditions.
- Requiring that workers complete training on the identification and reduction of ergonomic hazards in the work place.
Engineering Controls to Reduce Ergonomic Hazards
Engineering controls are physical design changes to the workplace, work station, tools and equipment to reduce the chance of injury. When utilized properly, these changes reduce or eliminate ergonomic hazards by placing a barrier between the worker and the hazard. Some examples of engineering controls to reduce ergonomic hazards include:
- Providing office workers with standing desks to reduce the long-term health effects of sitting at a desk.
- Redesigning work spaces around the individual worker to promote good posture.
- Automating work tasks to eliminate repetitive motions.
- Upgrading equipment to reduce vibration and the amount of exertion required to operate.