Analyzing jobs to identify factors associated with risks for MSDs, lays the groundwork for developing ways to reduce or eliminate ergonomic risk factors for MSDs.
A "hierarchy of controls" is widely accepted as an intervention strategy for controlling workplace hazards, including ergonomic hazards:
The preferred approach to prevent and control MSDs is to design the job including:
Engineering control strategies to reduce ergonomic risk factors include the following:
Work practice and administrative controls are closely related attempts to change behaviors. They are management-dictated work practices and policies to reduce or prevent exposures to ergonomic risk factors. Work practice and administrative control strategies include:
Although engineering controls are preferred, work practice and administrative controls can be helpful as temporary measures until engineering controls can be implemented or when engineering controls are not technically feasible. Since work practice and administrative controls do not eliminate hazards, management must assure that the practices and policies are followed.
Common examples of administrative control strategies for reducing the risk of MSDs are as follows:
One of the most controversial questions in the prevention of MSDs is whether the use of personal equipment worn or used by the employee (such as wrist supports, back belts, or vibration attenuation gloves) are effective. Some consider these devices to be personal protective equipment (PPE).
In the field of occupational safety and health, PPE generally provides a barrier between the worker and the hazard source. Respirators, ear plugs, safety goggles, chemical aprons, safety shoes, and hard hats are all examples of PPE. Whether braces, wrist splints, back belts, and similar devices can be regarded as offering personal protection against ergonomic hazards remains open to question.
Although these devices may, in some situations, reduce the duration, frequency, or intensity of exposure, evidence of their effectiveness in injury reduction is inconclusive. In some instances they may decrease one exposure but increase another because the worker has to "fight" the device to perform his or her work. An example is the use of wrist splints while engaged in work that requires wrist bending.
On the basis of a review of the scientific literature completed in 1994, NIOSH concluded that insufficient evidence existed to prove the effectiveness of back belts in preventing back injuries related to manual handling job tasks [NIOSH 1994].
A recent epidemiological study credits mandatory use of back belts in a chain of large retail hardware stores in substantially reducing the rate of low back injuries [Kraus 1996]. Although NIOSH believes this study provides evidence that back belts may be effective in some settings for preventing back injuries, NIOSH still believes that evidence for the effectiveness of back belts is inconclusive.
Less controversial types of personal equipment are vibration attenuation gloves [NIOSH 1989] and knee pads for carpet layers [Bhattacharya et al. 1985]. But even here, there can be concerns. For example, do the design and fit of the gloves make it harder to grip tools?
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