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All About Ergonomics

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What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics focuses on the interactions between work demands and worker capabilities; ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to the worker. Effective and successful "fits" assure high productivity, avoidance of illness and injury risks and increased satisfaction among the workforce.

When there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical capacity of the worker, a number of Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs) may result. Workers are most likely to develop WMSDs if they:

  • Repeat the same motion throughout the day
  • Work in an awkward position
  • Use a great deal of force to perform their jobs
  • Lift heavy objects repeatedly

What are WMSDs?

Although definitions vary, the term "Musculoskeletal Disorders" describe the following disorders:

  • Muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal disks
  • Not typically the result of any instantaneous or acute event such as a slip or fall but reflect a gradual or chronic development (i.e.: low back pain)
  • Diagnosed by a medical history, physical examination, or other medical tests that can range in severity from mild and intermittent to debilitating and chronic
  • Distinct features (such as carpal tunnel syndrome) as well as disorders defined primarily by location of the pain (i.e. low back pain.)

Are WMSDs a big problem?

Yes very big. Consider that WMSDs are:

  • Among the most prevalent lost-time injuries and illnesses in almost every industry
  • Among the most costly occupational problems, specifically those involving the back
  • Cause a great deal of pain and suffering among afflicted workers
  • Decrease productivity and the quality of products and services; workers experiencing aches and pains on the job may not be able to do quality work

In fact, recent statistics show:

  • U.S. workers experienced more than 647,000 lost workdays due to WMSDs -- 34 percent of all lost workday injuries and illnesses
  • WMSDs cost employers $15 to $20 billion in workers compensation costs each year
  • Indirect costs from WMSDs may run as high as $45 to $60 billion

Indeed, the problem has become so severe that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is considering ergonomic regulations.

What can be done to prevent WMSDs?

Real solutions have been demonstrated in workplaces of all sizes across a broad range of industries. Many employers have developed effective ergonomics programs and common sense solutions to address WMSDs in their workplaces. Occupational Health Solutions can help you prevent WMSDs.

Often WMSDs can be prevented by simple and inexpensive changes in the workplace. The President's Committee's Job Accommodation Network researched the cost of accommodations and found:

  • 31% cost nothing
  • 50% cost less than $50
  • 69% cost less than $500
  • 88% cost less than $1 million

For example, adjusting the height of working surfaces, varying tasks for workers and encouraging short rest breaks can reduce risks. Reducing the size of items workers must lift or providing lifting equipment also may aid workers. Specially designed equipment, such as curved knives for poultry processors, may help, too.

The Bottom Line

WMSDs represent real workplace problems faced by real people. Occupational Health Solutions' ergonomics consultants can help you design and implement an ergonomics program that avoids illness and injury risks, ensuring high productivity and satisfaction among your workforce.