Workers across different industries face a common but often overlooked risk; ergonomic injuries. Ergonomic related-injuries cover 33% of all reported worker illnesses and injuries and account for an annual expense of $15 to $20 billion annually, which is absorbed by businesses.
This makes it crucial for every business to invest in proper ergonomics solutions. This not only keeps your employees safe in the workplace but also boosts your bottom line.
However, it is important to note that not all ergonomics solutions in the workplace are created equal. In this article, we will look at which ergonomic solutions are effective in creating a safe working environment.
Before we get into the ergonomics solutions, let’s first review why ergonomics matters and some of the most common types of ergonomic injuries in the workplace.
Musculoskeletal disorders primarily affect muscles, nerves, and tendons in the body. Repeated movements such as lifting heavy items, slouching on a desk, or even clicking a mouse repeatedly, can cause damage.
Eventually, this causes pain and impacts the employee’s ability to carry on with their duties effectively. They may need to take some time off, take pain medications or even undergo surgery. This not only hurts their quality of life but also their productivity and the company’s bottom line.
Some of the benefits you can realize when you deal with ergonomics include;
By reducing ergonomic risks, you can lower the chances of employees developing musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. With approximately one-third of worker’s compensation attributed to musculoskeletal disorders, this presents a good opportunity for significant cost-cutting.
Ergonomic solutions often improve productivity. By designing the work environment to allow for a good posture, fewer reaches, and less exertion, the worker becomes more efficient and productive.
Good ergonomics makes for a happier, healthier, and productive workforce that often translates to improved profits for your company.
Poor ergonomics can lead to fatigued and uncomfortable workers and contributes to low-quality products and services. When a job is physically taxing, the employee may not perform as they are expected. For example, an assembly line worker may not tighten a screw tight enough because of the extra force required, which in turn might create a product quality issue.
Employees take note when a company is putting an effort into ensuring their health and safety. This boosts morale, decreases absenteeism, and increases employee involvement.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a disorder that causes weakness and pain in the wrist and hand. The disorder affects nerves and results in an average of 27 days away from work among workers. Additionally, nearly 50% of workers diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel switch jobs a few months after being diagnosed, which shows how big of an impact this injury can cause on employee retention in the workplace.
This is inflammation to a tendon (a thick cord attaching skeletal bones to muscles). There are different degrees of severity with tendinitis, ranging from minor irritation to more serious forms of inflammation. Tendinitis is capable of keeping employees from work for a few weeks and up to several months.
Adults, aged 40years and above have a higher risk of developing tendinitis because as tendons age they become more prone to injury.
Lower back injuries result in more than $ 100 billion spent in annual expenses.
Research conducted by the University of Carolina- Chapel Hill School of Medicine, more than 80% of Americans experience back pain at some point in their lives.
This is one of the best ways to maintain workplace ergonomics and assist injured employees with their recovery. An ergonomic assessment is a review of the work environment to identify if an employee is at risk of getting injured because of a poor person-environment fit.
Some of the risk factors an ergonomic assessment may take into consideration include:
Cognitive demands: The memory and level of attention required to complete a task.
Work tasks: How repetitive a particular task is.
Aids and appliances: Equipment available to help the employee to complete the task.
Environmental factors: Noise, lighting, temperature, and any other environmental factor that may affect how an employee works.
After the assessment, a report is prepared for the workplace environment highlighting some recommendations which may include:
• Changes in their workplace
• Better use of tools and equipment in the work environment
• The purchase of new equipment to help avoid an injury.
Ergonomic assessments should be conducted by occupational therapists, physiologists, and physiotherapists.
To minimize ergonomic injuries for workers, it is important to adopt the right design principles when creating workstations. One of the most important design principles is keeping equipment regularly used within areas of primary reach. Areas of primary reach are the vertical and horizontal areas that an employee can reach with minimal head, arm, or trunk movement.
For example, to minimize the strain and stress for seated employees, a good workstation design should have the proper height to support the task being performed and with bench users, adjusting the height of the bench and keeping the equipment being used within reach.
Ergonomics training is an effective way of keeping employees aware of their health and safety. Proper training on ergonomics ensures employees remain safe while on the job, which can boost morale and increase a company’s profitability.
Ergonomics training uses the scientific knowledge of anatomy to help reduce the amount of strain employees experience while performing their duties. Effective training should aim at lowering the risk of accidents and work-related injuries, improving employee productivity, and boosting well-being.
The training procedure will largely depend on the type of working environment. An ergonomics trainer should formulate a program based on whether an organization operates out of traditional offices, remote workers, retail businesses, industrial warehouses, or a construction site.
Some of the topics covered during basic ergonomic training include safe work practices, awareness of tasks that increase the risk of injuries, and proper use of tools and machines.
For example, employees working in an office setup can learn how to sit in the right posture to reduce strain on their upper back and prevent carpal tunnel. Employees who operate heavy machinery can learn how to sit or stand properly while working to lower their risks of developing tendinitis or other musculoskeletal disorders.
Training employees on ergonomics take safety in the workplace one step further by ensuring that they are well versed on how to prevent illnesses or injuries in the workplace.
Besides assessment and training, evaluating progress is pivotal to any effective ergonomics program. Evaluating and adopting corrective action procedures makes sure everyone is continuously improving and working towards a safer working environment.
By measuring progress on ergonomic programs, employers can confirm if the current solutions recommended are working as envisioned and if there is a need to make improvements or changes.
Risk profile assessment: A risk profile is used in workplaces that have high-risk exposures that need to be mitigated. It is essential to monitor the risk a particular work environment poses and assess the progress made towards making the work environment safer.
Feedback from employees: Involving workers in the process can help one get detailed, first-hand insights on how their work-life has improved since the ergonomic program was implemented.
One of the best ways to gain insights from employees is through conducting a survey. Surveys allow employees to anonymously and openly share thoughts on their working conditions and any problems they are having.
For any ergonomic program to be successful, the management must not only show their support but also be the powerful voice behind it. Having a strong commitment by the management is critical in addressing ergonomic injuries and supporting strategies that lower their adverse results.
The implementation of a successful ergonomic program should involve a top-down approach. This means managers and organizational leaders should take the first step in ergonomic planning to realize improvements in efficiency and satisfaction in the workplace.
Organizational leaders and managers can also display their commitment by taking a leadership role in defining goals, initiating the ergonomics process, assigning responsibilities to workers, and communicating openly about ergonomics to workers.
Ergonomic risks are a known issue, lurking in all workplaces. The best way to address this problem is through ergonomic assessments, training, design principles, progress evaluation, and management support. Following these solutions can help decrease ergonomic injuries and improve wellbeing which in turn benefits the company’s bottom line.
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