SAFETY SOLUTIONS: Ergonomics
Employers and employees alike are faced with potentially
mortal injuries on a daily basis. OSHA mandates
numerous regulations to protect the worker
against harm. However, more often than not, it is the highrisk
categories that employers place their focus.
Ergonomics, the study between workers and their environments,
takes second seat to high profile injury prevention.
Musculoskeletal disorders are the leading cause of
employee disability, afflicting over 19 million workers.
Approximately one-half of the nation’s work force is affected
at some with musculoskeletal disorder at some time
during their working lives.
In the 1990s, OSHA listed ergonomics as one of its
most important initiatives. There are definite policies and
procedures that OSHA compliance officers expect to find
in every workplace. The employer is required to evaluate
all jobs for potential musculoskeletal injuries. This evaluation
includes screening surveys, job hazard analysis and
periodic surveys. Upon results of the survey, employers
must then correct all ergonomic hazards identified.
In addition to job evaluations, employers must develop
a written Ergonomics Protection Program. This program
should include a thorough job analysis for each position,
an abatement (prevention and control) plan, engineering
controls, work practice controls, personal protective
equipment, administrative controls and medical management.
Medical management must include, but is not limited
to, health care providers, symptoms survey, health surveillance
Per OSHA standard, all employees at risk must be provided
training that includes signs and symptoms, prevention,
use of equipment, engineering controls, work practice
controls and administrative controls. Re-training is
required upon re-assignment or transfer and as a refresher
as needed to maintain the employees’ knowledge of the
listed referenced topics. Accurate recordkeeping of all
training provided will allow for easy assessment of need
for refresher courses.
Various voluntary standards have been developed to
help understand the wide variety of potential ergonomic
problems. The American National Standards Institute
(ANSI) in corroboration with Human Factors in
Ergonomics Society implemented the Standard for Office
Work Stations. ANSI independently developed the Control
of Cumulative Trauma Disorders standard and the
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
(NIOSH) created a standard for Materials Handling. These
few standards provide a great deal of information and
prove that ergonomic safety is a serious concern within
the work environment.
To prevent ergonomic injuries workers must perform
their tasks within the natural range of joints and body
structure. All joints in the human body have natural positions
at which they are strongest. Deviation from these
natural (optimum) positions creates increased susceptibility
to injury. These types of deviations can occur from
faulty body mechanics, repetitive lifting of awkward items,
poor design of workstation, excessive reaching/twisting,
heavy lifting and static bent postures.
Improvement of employee health and safety through a
viable ergonomic program is a must in the workforce. Not
only will it decrease the number of missed workdays, but
it will also drastically reduce the amount of money lost
due to an injury or illness. If your company does not have
a designated Certified Ergonomics Technician/Specialist,
consider designating a person with the correct knowledge
and training to oversee the ergonomic safety of the company’s
For more information, click on the author biography at the top of the page.