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:
Let’s take a closer look at each of these components.
Construction workers need to be trained on the proper techniques for lifting, bending, and carrying at the job site. For example:
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.
Injuries can occur in several ways, such as the following.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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