Workplace Ergonomics: Interventions for General Industry and Construction by Phil Hatfield, CSP, MS

Published: April 30, 2020

Ergonomics, also referred to as biotechnology, human engineering, or human factors, is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.

In other words, ergo is Latin for work and nomics is Latin for study of. So, we are simply managing the study of work to reduce workplace repetitive stress injuries.

Repetitive motion issues are not difficult to manage. The main issue is that they need to be identified. Once identified, they can be managed effectively. The ergonomic issues in your workplace can be identified through the following methods:

  • Ergonomic assessments
  • Ergonomic committees
  • State-funded safety programs such as IOSHA
  • Ergonomic consultants

Issues such as poor body posture, repetitive force, unstable positions, awkward positions, poor lifting techniques and excessive vibration can negatively affect workers. These issues can be easily minimized by:

  1. Adjusting chair heights to fit the user.
  2. Adjusting the height and position of a keyboard.
  3. Adjusting a desk or table to fit an employee.
  4. Use a footrest to reduce pressure and force on the legs.
  5. Use footrail or footstool for standing work. Elevating the feet by as little as 6 inches can reduce the strain on the lower back.
  6. Adjust the tilt of keyboard to reduce pressure on the hands.
  7. Adjust the height of the work surface for an employee.
  8. Teaching proper lifting techniques to employees.
  9. Providing lifting devices to minimize manual lifting of items.

There are other issues that can affect ergonomics such as:

  • Poor housekeeping.
  • A lack of organized storage.
  • Using systems such as 5S can reduce the amount of repetitive motions to retrieve tools and equipment.
  • Avoid leaving items on the floor. This could cause slip trip and fall hazards. This could also cause employees to reach to pickup heavy items that could cause back injuries.

There are also simple fixes for work performed on construction sites.

Sprains and strains back, shoulder, knee and other musculoskeletal problems are the most common injuries in the construction industry. These musculoskeletal (muscle, joint and bone) injuries make up over one-third of all lost workday injuries and produce about half of all compensation claims.

Ergonomics means finding ways for people to work easier and be just as productive.  It means working smarter, not harder. Ergonomic changes, generally, are not expensive and can be very simple. They include:

  • Planning the job to minimize manual handling of heavy materials and making sure that various types of lifting devices can be used to minimize manual handling of items.
  • Storing materials so they are accessible and easier to access (e.g., not above shoulder height or at ground level) but not in the way of on-going work.
  • Making sure walkways are even and clear so carts and dollies can be easily employed.
  • Using ergonomically designed tools which may be lighter in weight, require less force to operate, fit the hand better and be more comfortable to use.
  • Using carts, dollies, and hoists rather than brute strength to move materials.
  • Using handles when carrying loads.
  • Using protective equipment like knee pads and shoulder pads to reduce the contact stresses of kneeling or carrying materials.

Lastly, ergonomic safety pays. It is estimated that ergonomics issues costs employers between $45 million and $54 million annually. The average ergonomic injury costs look like this:

  1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – $28,647
  2. Sprain – $28,338
  3. Strain – $32,319
  4. Hernia – $23,083
  5. Inflammation – $32,080

Using the ergonomics interventions mentioned above can help companies reduce their direct and indirect costs related to ergonomic injuries. All these ergonomic efforts can greatly reduce the potential of on the job injures and illnesses due to ergonomic stressors.