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Steps to Solving Ergonomics Problems

Implement an ergonomics program

Form an ergonomics team

An ergonomics team should be made up of representatives from labor and management. It should also include individuals who are knowledgeable about ergonomics and the medical treatment of ergonomic injuries.

A comprehensive ergonomics program includes:

  • training to increase ergonomic awareness and build in-house expertise; 

  • collecting information on employees’ injuries and discomfort; 

  • identifying risk factors in the workplace that are causing injury and discomfort; 

  • giving workers input into how they do their jobs; 

  • developing ways to control ergonomic hazards by modifying equipment, the office environment, and the organization of work; 

  • implementing a medical management program to identify RSIs early and ensure appropriate medical treatment; 

  • identifying or creating light duty positions and making other job accommodations; and 

  • evaluating the effectiveness of the ergonomics program. 

Finding ergonomic injuries and their causes

Raise awareness about ergonomics by training workers and supervisors.

Workers and their supervisors should receive training about the causes and prevention of RSIs. The training should cover:

  • signs and symptoms of RSIs; 

  • use and adjustment of equipment; 

  • breaks and other ways to reduce the amount of time they are exposed to ergonomic risks; 

  • activities such as stretching and life style changes that reduce the risk of RSIs; 

  • reporting symptoms to the employer’s designated person; and 

  • procedures to request an ergonomic evaluation of their job, equipment, get medical help or other policies.

 

Collect information on employees’ injuries and discomfort.

Find out which workers have been injured or are having pain. The information can be obtained by:

  • looking for repetitive strain injuries in the OSHA 200 log; 

  • checking workers compensation records; and 

  • conducting a survey of symptoms (see the sample symptoms survey in Figure 3). 

Identify risk factors in the workplace that cause injury and discomfort.

A job analysis means taking a close look at a job to see what conditions are causing problems. It is important to look at all the tasks that are part of a job. For example, to find the cause of carpal tunnel syndrome for library clerks, the job analysis should look at computer work, book handling and other repetitive tasks performed with the hands. A sample job analysis checklist for computer operators is in Figure 4.

The main risk factors to look for are:

  • repetitive motion 

  • awkward posture 

  • long periods of repetitive activity (duration) 

  • lack of recovery time 

  • forceful movement 

  • vibration 

  • uncomfortable environmental conditions 

  • stressful work organization 

     

Develop ways to control ergonomic hazards by modifying equipment and the organization of work.

As with chemical or other hazards, management should eliminate ergonomic hazards with equipment that gets rid of the risk. Other control measures include work organization and training.

 

1. Equipment can control ergonomic risks

The following are examples of equipment that can get rid of or reduce ergonomic risks:

  • patient lifting devices (Figure 5) 

  • transfer boards to move patients from beds 

  • truck with hydraulic tailgate (Figure 6) 

  • adjustable computer and furniture (Figure 7) 

  • tools with bent handles that allow worker to keep wrists straight (Figure 8)

 

patient lifting device
Figure 5
 
Figure 6

 

 

recommendations for workstation design
Figure 7

 

 

2. Work organization changes

 
The way work is done can be changed without requiring different equipment. Here are some examples:
  • Buy supplies in smaller containers to reduce the weight of materials that must be lifted. 

  • Have a lifting team move patients. 

  • Take frequent rests from using the keyboard and mouse. 

  • Rotate jobs.

 

tool with bent handle
Figure 8

 

3. Use safe lifting techniques to prevent back injuries

  • Before lifting, make sure your path is dry and clear of objects that could cause a fall. 

  • Bend your knees and keep your back straight. (Lift with your legs, not your back.) 

  • Bring the load close to your body. 

  • Lift in a slow, even motion. 

  • Don’t twist your body. If you must turn, move your feet. 

  • Keep your back straight when putting down the load. 

WARNING!!! Safe lifting techniques are not enough to prevent back injuries. Using safe lifting techniques are often not practical, especially when lifting patients. Also, the greatest cause of back injuries is total weight lifted. When people are lifting too much, even using proper techniques may not prevent a back injury.

 

Back belts are not the answer to preventing back injuries

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) concluded that there is a lack of scientific evidence that back belts work. In fact, relying on back belts to prevent back injuries might even make the problem worse. The risk of a back injury increases if workers wearing belts try to lift more weight than they would have if they were not wearing a belt. 
 

Implement a medical management program to identify rsis early and to ensure appropriate medical treatment

The proper medical management of RSIs requires:

  • identifying and evaluating the signs and symptoms of RSIs early on; 

  • making a correct diagnosis based upon occupational and medical histories, physical examination and laboratory tests where appropriate; 

  • providing appropriate medical treatment according to standardized protocols; and 

  • changing workstations and the work process to control the risk factors responsible for injuries. 


A medical management program includes the following components:

  • access to trained health care providers experienced in the detection and treatment of RSIs; 

  • periodic inspections of the workplace to identify risk factors and ensure that hazards have been corrected; 

  • symptoms surveys that are conducted on an annual basis or more often where indicated; 

  • a list of light duty jobs to reduce exposure to RSI risk factors; 

  • medical surveillance that includes baseline and any subsequent evaluations; 

  • a system to report early signs and symptoms of RSIs; 

  • standardized procedures for health care providers; and 

  • evaluation, treatment and follow-up for individuals after treatment and/or return to duty. 

Identify or create light duty positions and make other job accommodations

Workers who have an RSI, are returning to work after an injury, or are experiencing symptoms may need accommodations to reduce exposure to ergonomic risk factors. Light duty positions or switching to another job temporarily or permanently are methods to help injured workers.

 

Evaluate the effectiveness of the ergonomics program

The ergonomics program should be evaluated to determine if it is working. Records should be reviewed to find out if there are fewer injuries, or less lost and/or restricted work time, sick leave, overtime, medical, and other costs. Symptoms surveys should be conducted periodically to see if health complaints are decreasing.

 

Laws to prevent RSIs

At the time of this writing, there are no federal OSHA standards on ergonomics.

 

See the following publications and web sites for more information

AFSCME fact sheets:

AFSCME: The Keys to Healthy Computing

American National Standards Institute, American National Standard for Human Factors Engineering of Visual Display Terminal Workstations, ANSI/HFS 100-1988

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Back Belts: Do They Prevent Injury? NIOSH Publication #94-127

NIOSH, A Critical Review of Musculoskeletal Disorders and Workplace Factors,

NIOSH, Elements of Ergonomics Programs

NIOSH, Updated Guidance on How to Design Safe Lifting Job!

Occupational Safety and Health Administration,
http://www.osha.gov/ or
http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/index.html

Edited by Putz-Anderson, Vern, Cumulative Trauma Disorders: A Manual for Musculoskeletal Diseases of the Upper Limbs, 1988

Washington State Department of Labor and Industries

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