Workplace ergonomics is the science of designing the workplace, keeping in mind the capabilities and limitations of the worker. The goal is to optimize the interaction between the work and the worker. By achieving this goal, you’re also achieving an increase in productivity as job tasks become easier and more efficient to perform.
Ergonomics can have a dramatic and far reaching impact on your organization, including improving productivity. In today’s competitive business environment, it’s impossible to ignore ergonomics as a valuable and necessary process to making the best product in the most efficient way. Implementing Ergonomics in the workplace leads to maximum productivity while saving physiological and health-related costs to the organisation and the worker by reducing the risk of occupational injury or illness.
Workers across many occupations and industries are exposed to risk factors at the workplace such as working in wrong body postures, lifting heavy items, reaching overhead, bending, pushing and pulling heavy objects. These activities, if conducted in an incorrect manner, affect the muscular and nervous system causing Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs).
A few examples of work-related MSDs are Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, back injuries, muscle strains, tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, etc. Work-related MSD’s are one of the most frequently reported causes of absenteeism and loss of work. These can, however, be prevented by applying ergonomics in the workplace
How does ergonomics improve productivity?
The presence of ergonomic risk factors — awkward postures, excessive force, and high task repetition — makes a job more frustrating and difficult to perform. This causes a variety of problems including losses in productivity. The ergonomics improvement process reduces ergonomic risk factors and improves the interaction between the work and the worker. Done well, this process removes barriers to productivity and makes job tasks easier and faster to accomplish.
- Improve productivity by reducing awkward postures
Working in an awkward posture is not an efficient way to work. The ergonomics process encourages work to be done in the “comfort zone”, causing less fatigue and helping you work faster and more accurately.
- Improve productivity by reducing high force requirements
High force requirements cause unnecessary exertion that slows work down. Using mechanical assists, counter balance systems, adjustable height lift tables and workstations, powered equipment and ergonomic tools will reduce work effort and muscle exertions.
- Improve productivity by reducing highly repetitive tasks
High task repetition, especially when combined with other risks factors such high force and/or awkward postures, increases fatigue and slows the work process down. Excessive or unnecessary motions should be reduced if at all possible. In situations where this is not possible, it is important to eliminate excessive force requirements and awkward postures.
Ergonomic Risk Assessment
Ergonomics relates to the relationship of employees, the tasks or jobs they must perform, the environments in which they work and the equipment they have to use on the job.
An Ergonomic Risk Assessment helps you to understand and review the work design and systems present in your workplace. Conducting an Ergonomic Risk Assessment will also help you understand if you are complying with the legislative requirements in this area. The risk assessment will also include the identification of any ergonomic equipment requirements.
While conducting the risk assessment, a competent assessor will be able to give on the spot advice to employees on the layout of their workstations, thereby reducing effect of bad posture and potential ill health. Environmental aspects like noise, temperature and lighting may also be evaluated while conducting this risk assessment. A report including a detailed assessment of the work area and key recommendations must be prepared once the risk assessment has been completed. This report will help to reduce the likelihood of accidents on the job and will also focus the employer’s attention to the identified hazards.
Preventing Injury with proper Ergonomics
There are several conditions that can arise as a result of poor ergonomics. Some of them may require medical attention or other treatment if they are left alone without correction for too long. You can be susceptible to the following ailments:
- Headaches and migraines
- Back injury, pain, and aches
- Stiff neck
- Sharp pain in your fingers “trigger finger”
- Musculoskeletal disorders – carpal tunnel, tendinitis, rotator cuff injury
Each of these health conditions can cause you mild to severe discomforts not only while you are working, but after you leave the job site. Each can lead to poor production as well as days missed from work or a complete inability to perform your work tasks any longer period.
Injury Prevention Tip — Ice or Heat?
Cold therapy is a very practical and inexpensive prevention tool for your workplace athletes. Athletic trainers have used ice on fatigued and sore muscles of athletes after sports activities for decades. Research has shown this to be a very effective prevention technique.
Cold therapy with ice is a great anti-inflammatory. Ice application causes vaso-constriction (blood vessels to narrow) which pushes inflammation out and therefore reduces potential swelling and discomfort. The best way to apply ice is with a high quality ice pack that conforms to the body part being iced, for at least 10 minutes for smaller muscles and up to 20 minutes for larger muscles.
The application of moist heat prior to physical activity will increase blood flow and can assist in the warm-up process. Heat after work is NOT recommended because this may add to any inflammation that is already present.
When to use Ice or Heat:
Heat before activity: Use heat to warm up the muscles to get them ready to move and work, but never after activity. Never use heat on an inflamed muscle, tendon, or joint.
Ice after activity: Use ice after activity to decrease any inflammation that may have occurred while working.
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