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Course 711 - Introduction to Ergonomics

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Defining Ergonomics



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."

The word "ergonomics" is from Greek: :

  • "ergo" means "work,"
  • "nomics" means "laws pertaining to, or measure."
  • Ergonomics is "the laws pertaining to work, the measure of work."

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.

Ergonomics & Risk Factors

Ergonomic Risk Factor Areas.
Click to enlarge.

Ergonomics studies the various risk factors brought to a job. Listed below are three areas within which ergonomic risk factors exist.

  • Risk factors inherent in the worker
  • Risk factors inherent in the task
  • Risk factors inherent in the environment

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.

Who is at risk?

That's a great question. Let's take a look at the factors that increase the risk of an injury. The risk for developing MSDs increases for workers who must:

  • repeat the same motion often throughout their workday;
  • do their work in an awkward position;
  • use a great deal of force to perform their jobs;
  • repeatedly lift heavy objects; or
  • face a combination of these risk factors.

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.

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Ergonomics and MSDs Washington State L&I

When there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical capacity of the worker, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), also called workplace musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs), can result. MSDs affect the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons.

Workers in many different industries and occupations can be exposed to risk factors at work, such as lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward body postures and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively. Exposure to these known risk factors for MSDs increases a worker's risk of injury.

MSDs represent a wide range of disorders that can differ in severity from mild periodic symptoms to severe chronic and debilitating conditions. Below is a list of examples.

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • fibromyalgia
  • Rotator cuff injuries (affects the shoulder)
  • Epicondylitis (affects the elbow)
  • Trigger finger
  • Muscle strains and low back injuries

Factors Contributing to MSDs

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:

  • Awkward and static postures - assuming positions that place stress on the body, such as prolonged or repetitive reaching above shoulder height, kneeling, squatting, leaning over a counter, using a knife with wrists bent, or twisting the torso while lifting.
  • Repetitive motions - performing the same motion or series of motions continually or frequently for an extended period of time;
  • Forceful exertions - the amount of physical effort required to perform a task (such as heavy lifting1 , pushing or pulling), handle merchandise, or maintain control of equipment or tools.
  • Pressure points and Contact stress - pressing the body or part of the body (such as the hand) against hard or sharp edges, or using the hand as a hammer.
  • Vibration - segmental affecting the hands and arms, and whole body vibration from standing or sitting in vibrating environments.

Symptoms of Workplace Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs)

MSDs in the workplace can cause severe and debilitating symptoms that not only result in illness, but injury. Symptoms of MSDs in the workplace include:

  • pain, numbness, and tingling;
  • reduced worker productivity;
  • lost time from work;
  • temporary or permanent disability;
  • inability to perform job tasks; and/or
  • an increase in workers compensation costs.

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the that gives a good introduction to WMSDs.


Impact of MSDs on Work

Musculoskeletal disorders are among the most prevalent medical problems in the U.S. They accounted for more than 31% of all injury and illness cases in 2015.

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.

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.

Ergonomics in the Workplace

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.

Module Quiz

Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to _____.

2. Musculoskeletal disorders can result when there is a mismatch between the physical _____ of the job and the physical _____ of the worker.

3. The risk for developing MSDs increases when workers _____.

4. Which of the following is not one of the three areas within which ergonomics risk factors exist?

5. MSDs can be prevented by simple and inexpensive changes in the workplace such as _____.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.