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Course 850 - Health Hazards in Construction

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

Ergonomic Hazards in Construction


Ergonomic hazards can cause painful and disabling injuries to joints and muscles on a construction site. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), ergonomic hazards are the most frequently occurring health hazards in construction and the cause of most injuries.

In a recent survey, 40 percent of construction workers said "working hurt" is a major problem. Working hurt reduces productivity, but continuing to work hurt can result in disabling injuries that end a career. Many laborers retire by age 55 because they just can't do the work anymore. Many can't enjoy their retirement because of their disabilities.



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

  • planning
  • tools and equipment
  • cooperation
  • materials
  • training

Let’s take a closer look at each of these components.

  • Plan the job to minimize manual handling of heavy materials. Make sure crane time is available, forklifts are used maximally and materials are delivered and stored close to where they will be used.
  • Store materials so they are accessible (e.g., not above shoulder height or at ground level) but not in the way of on-going work.
  • Make sure walkways are even and clear so carts and dollies can be easily employed.

Tools and Equipment

  • Use better, ergonomically-designed tools which may be lighter weight, require less force to operate, fit the hand better and more comfortable to use.
  • Use carts, dollies and hoists rather than your own strength to move materials.
  • Use handles when carrying loads.
  • Use protective equipment like knee pads and shoulder pads to reduce the contact stresses of kneeling or carrying materials.
  • Get help when needed to handle heavy loads—some companies set weight limits (like 50 pounds) above which a helper is required.
  • Organize stretching programs before work begins each day.
  • Use lighter materials, such as lighter weight block.


Construction workers need to be trained on the proper techniques for lifting, bending, and carrying at the job site. For example:

  • Don’t twist when lifting.
  • Keep the load close to the body. If possible, arrange for work to be done in the power zone. The power zone for lifting is close to the body, between mid-thigh and mid-chest height.
  • Grip the load firmly with your whole hand, not just your fingers.
  • Lift in a smooth motion and don’t jerk.
  • Use two people to handle loads heavier than about 40 to 50 pounds. If the load looks like more than you can handle, get help either from another person or by using a mechanical/moving aid.

You might want to set up a regular time, maybe during safety meetings, to talk about ergonomic issues, get ideas about improving job, and try out suggestions.

Ergonomic Injuries

Injuries can occur in several ways, such as the following.

  • heavy, frequent, or awkward lifting
  • repetitive tasks
  • awkward grips and/or postures
  • using excessive force and/or overexertion
  • using wrong tools for the job or using tools improperly
  • using improperly maintained tools
  • hand-intensive work
Musculoskeletal Disorders

Ergonomic hazards can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and injuries. Strains and sprains are one of the most common injuries among construction workers. Here are some other MSDs common in construction.

  • tendonitis
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • low back pain
  • fatigue

Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are caused by job activities and conditions, like lifting, repetitive motions, and work in confined areas. All of these are a part of construction work. They can become long-term and disabling health problems that keep you from working and enjoying life.

Construction workers have an increased risk of these injuries in the following instances:

  • when carrying heavy loads
  • twisting hands or wrist
  • stretching to work overhead
  • using certain types of tools
  • using vibrating tools or equipment
Reducing WMSDs

The best way to reduce WMSDs is to use the principles of ergonomics to redesign tools, equipment, materials, or work processes. Simple changes can make a big difference. Using ergonomic ideas to improve tools, equipment, and jobs reduces workers’ contact with factors that can result in injuries. When ergonomic changes are introduced on the job site, they should always be accompanied by worker training on how to use the new methods and equipment, as well as how to work safely to prevent injuries.

Work Fixtures and Tools

tool selection

Workers should not have to use their hands or bodies as a vise to hold objects; mechanical devices do this much better. Tooling fixtures and jigs should be set up to avoid awkward postures and excessive forces.

Improper hand tool selection or improper use of tools can cause carpal tunnel disorders. (CTDs) Hand tools should fit the employee's hand; employees with small hands or who are left-handed may need tools designed specifically for these situations. Hand and wrist posture are important because they affect how much force the muscles must produce to hold objects. When selecting and purchasing hand tools, the guidelines listed below should be followed.

Select tools that allow the wrist to be held straight and that minimize twisting of the arm and wrist. Good working posture can be maintained when properly designed tools are used.

Proper Tool Selection

Select tools that allow the operator to use a power grip, not a pinch grip. Minimal muscle force is required to hold objects in a power grip posture. The pinch grip requires excessive fingertip pressure, and can lead to a CTD.

Avoid tools that put excessive pressure on any one spot of the hand (i.e., sides of fingers, palm of the hand).

For power or pneumatic tools, select tools with vibration dampening built in whenever possible. Provide personal protective equipment such as gel-padded gloves to reduce exposure to vibration.



Posture is the position of the body while performing work activities. Awkward posture is a deviation from the ideal working posture of arms at the side of the torso, elbows bent, with the wrists straight. Awkward postures typically include reaching behind, twisting, working overhead, kneeling, forward or backward bending, and squatting. If the posture is awkward during work, there is an increased risk for injury. The more the joint departs from the neutral position, the greater the likelihood of injury.

Listed below are some specific postures that may be associated with increased risk of injury:

  • Wrist flexion or extension that occurs regularly is associated with a greater risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Ulnar deviation of the wrist of greater than 20 degrees increases the risk of pain and other disease.
  • Shoulder abduction or flexion of greater than 60 degrees for more than one hour a day increases the risk of acute neck and shoulder pain.
  • Hands working at or above shoulder level can result in increased risk of tendinitis and various shoulder diseases.
  • The greater the angle of flexion of the neck, the more quickly potentially severe neck and shoulder pain results.
  • Bending at the lower back while working increases the likelihood of low back disorders.

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the that gives 6 tips for good posture on worksites.

Twisting and Force

Twisting in the middle of a lift amplifies the forces on the lower back. Imagine placing a tomato between the palms of your hands and applying direct pressure. It might take a great deal of force to burst the tomato. However, give the motion a twist while applying the pressure and it will take far less pressure to burst the tomato.

Twisting while lifting, pushing, pulling, lowering, or raising may have the same effect on the back. Consequently, twisting while taking any of these actions exposes the back to a much greater risk of injury.

For more information on general ergonomic factors in the workplace, please see OSHAcademy Course 711 Introduction to Ergonomics.


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. What percentage of construction workers say “working hurt” is a major problem?

2. Ergonomics means working _____, not _____.

3. Select hand tools that allow the operator to use a _____.

4. What is one of the most common injuries among construction workers?

5. You should use two people to handle loads heavier than about _____ pounds.

Have a great day!

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