Ergonomics in the Workplace
BY CHRISTINE TORRES
Published March 25, 2021
Do your workers follow good posture and lifting rules? What type of shoes are they wearing for several hours a day, up and down stairs, and on multiple types of surfaces? Ergonomics in the workplace are one of those important topics everyone is responsible for to prevent injuries. Sherri Darby of WiscoLift, an overhead crane services and material handling products manufacturer and distributor in Wisconsin, leads the discussion this week for the #USAMfgHour chat on Twitter.
No Safety, Know Pain
Ergonomics is understanding human well-being and performance for efficiency and safety. Each workplace and job, from an office worker to cold storage warehousing to construction welding, can benefit from effective ergonomics in the workplace. Why is ergonomics important in the workplace?
“I can tell you first-hand that poor ergonomics led me to having neck pain and nerve issues for the last year that I've had to correct,” said Rebecca Hart of Drive Source International/Dynamatic. “Let's say, I don't want that anymore!”
“To help keep the number one thing that businesses should focus on, safety, top-notch,” said Ben Nordman of Obsidian Manufacturing. “It also helps the actual business side of things with efficiency.”
“Longevity in employee performance and happiness,” said Julianne Schaub of Striven Software. “People are just like machines, they can't be run into the ground or used in a way that's unhealthy constantly.”
“Keep your team happy + comfortable,” said John Buglino of Optessa.
“To prevent workplace lost time due to repetitive stress injuries and/or aches and pains as a result of inefficient workstations,” said sales and marketing professional Phil Samuels.
“It helps facilitate the two most important things in any workplace: Safety and efficiency,” said Noah Katzenstein of Artus Corp.
“To keep everyone safe and working productively,” said Dan Bigger of Chenango Valley Technologies.
“So you avoid the back and neck pain like I have,” said Paul Kiesche of Aviate Creative. “Ugh... It certainly helps with productivity, endurance, and focus.”
“Good employee health and well-being contributes to better productivity and work longevity,” said Shannon Simpson of DuraTech. “It can also reduce health insurance costs and work comp claims.”
In 2013, musculoskeletal disorders or MSD cases accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not only are MSDs painful physically, they are financially as well. MSDs can result in missed workdays and costs of as much as $54 billion annually in lost productivity and treatment.
“There are more than a half-million cases of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) annually in the U.S. alone,” Darby said. “Work-related MSDs can be prevented. Fitting a job to a person helps lessen muscle fatigue, increases productivity, and reduces the number and severity of work-related MSDs.”
Some examples of Musculoskeletal Disorders are:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Rotator cuff injuries (affects the shoulder)
- Epicondylitis (affects the elbow)
- Trigger finger
- Muscle strains and low back injuries
“Carpel tunnel, neck and back pain are common,” Samuels said. “Does eye stress from staring at a device screen count?”
“I didn't think about the eyes, Phil. So true. Eye strain and dry eye,” said Gina Tabasso of Dar-Tech.
“Carpal tunnel syndrome, radiculopathy (which is what I had), and sciatica are three off the top of my head,” said DSI/Dynamatic.
“EMS and caregivers get MSDs from their rigorous activities, like patient lifting,” said IndeeLift. “It can affect muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, bones, peripheral nerves and blood vessels leading to pain, discomfort and impaired mobility.”
Ergonomic injuries can have a huge impact on a worker’s productivity as well as worker retention. Even the smallest repetitive motion can hinder someone physically over time. Have you noticed processes at your workplace that could cause an injury to others?
“No, we are pretty vigilant about safety here,” said CVT. “We want everyone to do their jobs, but safely. The floor gets regular breaks as well.”
“Yes, I have noticed a few areas that could use some help,” said DSI.
“There are a lot of processes that if not performed correctly could cause injuries, especially in a warehouse environment,” said Julie Basello of Radwell International.
“We have a great safety program and manager here to help identify and prevent injuries. We also do 5s 6S,” said DuraTech.
“Anytime we observe an employee working in a manner that is not healthy, we step in and make adjustments to correct the problem and then evaluate the procedures we have in place to make it healthier,” said Sue Nordman of Obsidian Manufacturing. “Usually, it is an employee needing to make an adjustment.”
“I think we do a good job with managing safety protocols,” said Obsidian. “It also helps that we have such an experienced team that they know how to safely operate the machinery we work with.”
“New problems can always arise,” said Graphic Products. “That's why it's important to conduct frequent safety inspections, perform daily checklists, etc.”
“Any jobs that require physical demands such lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward body postures and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively can result in an MSD,” Darby said.
Improve Your Position
How can you begin implementing an ergonomic process at your workplace (if you don't already have one)?
“Survey the employees or simply ask in a meeting ways they want the office to improve,” said Buglino. “That is how we obtained sit-stand desks + lumbar support pillows for teammates.”
“Gotta get management on board first,” said DSI/Dynamatic. “We have to let them know how it's an important investment in their bottom line.”
“A good quality safety plan and experienced workers can take you far in your manufacturing facility,” said Sue Nordman.
“Your health insurance company may provide free ergonomic assessments,” said DuraTech. “Or you can use a consultant. Utilize your safety manager to provide assessments and training.”
“I would put chairs at the top of this list based on my personal experience,” said Radwell.
Darby suggested these tips:
- Provide management support
- Involve workers
- Provide training
- Identify problems
- Encourage early reporting of MSD symptoms
- Implement solutions to control hazards
- Evaluate progress
The group also discussed the importance of understanding the needs that are unique to the work environment. When evaluating ways to improve, consider productivity/efficiency and whether it is a temporary or permanent “fix.”
What are some examples of ergonomic equipment that would be beneficial in your workplace?
“Judging by responses, chairs seem to be #1, forklifts would be another,” said CVT. “Back braces?”
“Yes, there are several in the warehouse mobility space where the scanners are designed with Ergo in mind,” said Sam Gupta of ElevatIQ. “Also, chairs, desk, machines. While purchasing, review the Ergo ratings.”
“Office chairs with lumbar support - foot rests - sit-stand desks - anti-fatigue mats when you stand. I also purchased an inexpensive ergonomic mouse from Anker - love it,” said Buglino.
“I use an ergonomic keyboard and a left-handed mouse (I am right-handed) and something to support my elbow when typing,” said Ruby Rusine of Social Success Marketing.
“I've brought in a standing desk, a wrist guard for my mouse and lifted my monitor to eye height,” said DSI/Dynamatic. “Others would be chairs that offer support, foot rests, and anything that allows my shoulders to relax.”
“Miles Tech and the Striven division are pretty great with supplying desks, chairs that help with everyday use,” said Striven. “They also have a gym and so many cool recreational things. I would love to see a video series on stretches for WFH folks to encourage breaks.”
Examples of duties and type of ergonomic equipment to use:
- Lifting from the Floor: Dollies, Scissor Lift Tables and Load Levelers
- Picking/Assembly Line: Robotic Arms/Pickers
- Lifting Heavy Products: Jib Cranes, Plate Clamps, Lifting Magnets and Vacuum Lifting Devices
Need a checklist to help identify job risks and ideas to mitigate them? There are free informational resources on OSHA.gov, NIOSH.org, and more.
Anyone who champions U.S. manufacturing can join in on a new conversation each week on Twitter using the hashtag #USAMfgHour. The chat starts at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time/2 p.m. Eastern. Share positive blog posts, helpful articles, news, important information, accomplishments, events, and more with other manufacturers and supporters from throughout the country.