Keeping Employees Safe Through Smart Workplace Ergonomics


An employer has a responsibility to protect their employees. That includes not just specific accidents or incidents that can happen at work, but also from conditions that develop gradually like musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Workers’ compensation claims arise from both injuries that are the result of accidents and those that happen because of conditions to which workers are exposed on a regular basis.


MSDs that are caused by the workplace include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, trigger finger, lower back injuries, and other muscle strains. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that MSDs account for approximately one third of all worker injury and illness cases.


Protecting your employees from long-term injury

Ergonomics is defined as an applied science that is intended to design and arrange how people interact with their workspace in order to be efficient and safe. This process designs the work environment products and systems to fit people as they work. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to ergonomics, because it’s exactly the opposite—it’s finding the right positioning and tools for each person that works for their size, body type, tasks, and comfort.


In creating an ergonomic environment, you’ll also protect employees from certain kinds of injuries.


OSHA offers these suggestions to create an ergonomic environment:


1. Involve workers in the process. There’s a simple way to do this: Ask. Find out what they see as the hazards in their space, and observe how they perform tasks. After identifying hazards in their workspaces, you can reduce exposure by modifying the space to better meet their needs.


2. Require ongoing training and provide education. It’s not enough for you to understand workplace ergonomics; it’s important to educate your employees so that they can participate in the process. If you have an office full of people who sit at computers or answer phones, you might not know if their monitors are at the correct eye level to protect necks and backs, if their chairs are each adjusted to the correct height for proper keyboard use, and other things that contribute to ergonomic safety in the workplace. The more they know about how to position and use equipment, the more they can protect themselves.


3. Educate employees about early symptoms of MSDs. Most MSDs don’t happen overnight. They develop gradually, and there are symptoms that, if recognized at early onset, can be the key to solving a problem before it gets worse. Provide literature and training about what to look for and when to report a symptom of an MSD. If an employee reports a symptom of an MSD to a supervisor, the supervisor should immediately encourage the worker in writing to take steps to mitigate the condition. It’s easier to manage treatment of an ache or pain before it becomes an injury than once it has already progressed.


Finding ergonomic solutions


Physical changes in the workplace:

  • Using devices to lift heavy objects to limit force exertion
  • Reduce weight loads
  • Position work tables to avoid excessive or repeated reaching
  • Use diverging conveyors in order to reduce repetitiveness of tasks
  • Use tools that allow for neutral posture

Management controls:

  • Require that multiple people lift heavy loads together
  • Rotate workers’ tasks so that they’re not working repetitively
  • Provide ample breaks
  • Use tools according to all operating instructions
  • Require team lifting, rather than lifting as an individual
  • Educate workers about musculoskeletal self-care, rest, and recovery
  • Identify early signs of fatigue in order to prevent further injury


Personal protective equipment:

  • Use padding to protect against contact with hard, sharp, or vibrating surfaces
  • Wear thermal gloves to avoid cold hands
  • Wear back support belts and other harnesses to protect the core when reaching, leaning, or lifting
  • Wear lifting gloves that are the correct size and increase grip stability


Material handling guidelines:

  • When lifting, straddle the end of the object or bag
  • Bend at the hips and knees, keeping back straight and using both hands and elbows placed inside the thighs
  • Don’t twist the body
  • Use shoulders to stabilize object; hoist to a padded shoulder opposite the knee used to thrust an object upward, and continue to move without bending sideways
  • Avoid lifting from the floor where possible
  • Use mechanical assistive devices like a hand truck, scissor lift, load lifter, or pneumatic lifter to raise or lower a load
  • Raise or lower work surface to suit the height of the worker


By using these and other ergonomic strategies, you can reduce the likelihood of your employees being injured on the job.