Webster's New World Dictionary (College Edition) defines ergonomics as "the study of the problems of people in adjusting to their environment; especially the science that seeks to adapt work or working conditions to suit the individual worker."
Ergonomics may also be thought of as the science of fitting the job to the individual worker. When there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical capacity of the worker, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can result.
Workers come in all shapes and sizes, each with unique attributes that present certain ergonomic risk factors to a given job. The task(s) of the job itself can present risk factors that increase the likelihood of an injury. Finally, the workplace environment, within which the worker and job exist, may also contain exposures to risk factors. We will cover each of these risk factor categories in this course.
That's a great question. Let's take a look at the factors that increase the risk of an injury. Risk for developing MSDs increases for workers who must:
The level of risk depends on how long a worker is exposed to these conditions, how often they are exposed, and the level of exposure.
MSDs include a group of conditions that involve the nerves, tendons, muscles, and supporting structures such as intervertebral discs. They represent a wide range of disorders, which can differ in severity from mild periodic symptoms to severe chronic and debilitating conditions. Below is a list of examples.
MSDs are often confused with ergonomics. Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of workers. In other words, MSDs are the problem and ergonomics is a solution.
Contributing factors are aspects of work tasks that can lead to fatigue, MSD symptoms and injuries, or other types of problems. These factors may be present in one or more of the tasks employees must perform to accomplish their jobs. The contributing factors you and your employees should be aware of include:
There are also environmental factors associated with the workplace that can cause problems.
Extreme high temperatures can increase the rate at which the body will fatigue. Exposure of the hands and feet to cold temperatures can decrease blood flow, muscle strength, and manual dexterity. These conditions can also cause excessive grip force to be applied to tool handles or objects. Another problem may be caused by tools or equipment that exhaust cold or hot air directly onto the operator.
In addition, the lighting in a workplace may be too dark or too bright for the work task. This may result in employees assuming awkward postures to accomplish work tasks and a loss of product quality. We will cover these factors in more detail in upcoming modules.
Occasionally, in reading safety literature, you will come across the term "work-related MSDs" (WMSDs). WMSDs are nothing more than MSDs caused or made worse by the work environment. WMSDs can cause severe and debilitating symptoms such as:
Musculoskeletal disorders are among the most prevalent medical problems in the U.S. They accounted for more than 32% of all injury and illness cases in 2014.
Often MSDs can be prevented by simple and inexpensive changes in the workplace. 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.
Below are some more interesting statistics.
Medical costs and workers' compensation claims for serious MSDs may total $15,000 to $85,000 or more. It makes sense to give serious consideration to the risk factors in your workplace and the information in this course will help you do that.
Watch this Structured Health demo on-site ergonomic assessment to create the optimal computer and chair set-up. Alleviate pain immediately with simple do-it-yourself changes.
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