The word “ergonomics” refers to the science of designing and arranging the physical workplace in a way that’s most efficient and safe to workers. While that may sound technical, ergonomics is of crucial and immediate importance to protect workers to risks of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), a form of gradual and invisible but also serious injury that includes arthritis, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis. Work-related MSDs have become increasingly common and now account for 33% of all workers’ comp claims. Consequently, effective use of ergonomic measures to prevent MSDs can keep your workers safe, healthy and productive and save your company huge sums of money.
Be A Better Supervisor
Here’s a quick overview of some of the most common work-related MSDs.
An estimated 350 000 000 people worldwide have a form of arthritis. Although there are many types of arthritis, the one most influenced by workplace activities is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is influenced by normal wear and tear on joints. Symptoms of the disease include swelling, bone spurs, grating sensations, stiffness, and pain. There are numerous personal factors for the disease, but in the workplace, repeated stress on a joint is an important factor. Particularly in manual labor or repeatedly active tasks, there is an increased risk of osteoarthritis. Some examples of activities include shoveling, scooping ice cream, or lifting objects. As a supervisor, you want to educate employees on techniques to do their jobs with as little joint stress as possible. While muscles get stronger, joints wear down, so the best thing to do in the workplace is to focus physical stress on muscles, not joints. As well, it is worthwhile to supply ergonomic tools that can handle the stress otherwise put on joints. Examples may include hand carts, machines, or hand tools.
Back injuries and pain are a significant problem for businesses. The American Chiropractic Association estimates that both 80% of the population will experience back pain in their lifetime and that back pain costs business in the United States $100 billion annually. It’s no small matter and will likely affect you or someone within your company in the foreseeable future. Most commonly, back pain causes pain, decreased quality of life, stiffness, reduced strength, and increases time to complete tasks. The causes of back pain include poor posture, poor lifting techniques, psychological stress, and internal diseases. In the workplace, you can reduce the likelihood of back pain by teaching proper lifting technique and adapting workstations for proper posture. Proper posture means aligning the spine into its natural “S” like curve. Commonly, we slouch into a “C” curve which relaxes muscles but increases stress on the joints. Muscles then become underdeveloped and back pain ensues easily. To reduce back pain, you want employees to strengthen their backs to avoid straining when exerting themselves.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a disease in which there is swelling around the median nerve, which connects the hand to the arm. Lesser symptoms of CTS include numbness and weakness of the hand, but severe symptoms can involve pain and burning up the arm and loss of hand function. Nonsurgical treatments, like wrists splints and steroid injections, are preferred, but when surgery is necessary recovery time can last several weeks to several months. It’s not ideal for employees to lose hand function or need several months off, but necessary, repetitive wrist motions can increase the risk of CTS in the workplace. Jobs that are in manufacturing, assembly lines, construction, and computing all increase this risk. As a supervisor, you should improve hand posture at employee workstations and reduce the number of tasks that require over-extending the wrist. This may mean supplying equipment like pads or wrist rests to reduce physical pressure, for example. It also helps to teach employees wrist exercises they can do to improve their wrist strength and reduce swelling.
Tendinitis is the inflammation of a tendon, most commonly seen in shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees, and heels. You may have heard of different names like Golfer’s elbow, Tennis elbow, Jumper’s knee, or Pitcher’s shoulder that actually describe the problems of tendinitis. Majority of cases are easily treated with rest, physical therapy, and medications, but some severe cases do require surgery. Often, tendinitis will result in time off work. The most common occupational hazards include repetitive motions, awkward positions, frequent overhead reaching, vibrations, or forceful exertion. Like the other MSDs we have looked at, ergonomics around tendinitis involve looking at ways to reduce physical stress on workers. You might want to invest in machinery, tools, or furniture that allows employees to be in natural positions and reduce physical strain while working. Examples of equipment includes adjustable chairs, forklifts, handcarts, ladders, and roller carts.