Ergonomics at Work

Ergonomics is a way of designing workstations, work practices, and work flow to accommodate the capabilities of workers. It may also be thought of as the science of “fitting the job to the individual worker.”  When there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical capacity of the worker, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can happen.

So, what can you do at work to help prevent these MSDs from occurring?  It’s important to understand that everyone’s ability to respond to external demands of a task is very unique.  In other words, you should not be lumped together into groups.  Recent reports show that stereotyping or making generalities about an employee’s ability should not be based on factors such as age, gender, or strength.

Business Effect of MSDs

MSDs can increase the cost of doing business both directly and indirectly. Direct costs may include medical services and higher workers’ compensation premiums. The direct cost to close an ergonomic-related workers’ compensation claim can average more than $9,000. Indirect costs from increased employee turnover, absenteeism, and retraining may also occur. Productivity, product quality, and employee morale may also suffer. Estimates indicate the indirect costs associated with MSDs may be four to 10 times higher than the direct costs. Preventing and controlling ergonomic risk factors in the workplace often costs a fraction of what one such claim would cost. In smaller companies, one ergonomic-related claim can mean the difference between being above or below the profit margin.

Controlling Ergonomic Hazards

To control ergonomic hazards, a hierarchy of controls has been used as a means of determining how to implement feasible and effective controls. ANSI Z10-2005, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems, encourages employers to use the hierarchy of hazard control strategies listed below.

  1. elimination
  2. substitution
  3. engineering controls
  4. administrative controls
  5. personal protective equipment

The idea behind this hierarchy is the control methods at the top of the list are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom for controlling ergonomic hazards. Following the hierarchy normally leads to the implementation of inherently safer systems, ones where the risk of illness or injury has been substantially reduced.

For a more in-depth look at the hierarchy of control strategies to help prevent MSDs at your workplace, please see OSHAcademy’s free online course 711 Introduction to Ergonomics.