Employees lifting heavy items, working in awkward positions, pushing heavy loads, or reaching overhead are all at risk for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs affect the muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, nerves, and tendons and common disorders include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, muscle strains, back injuries, and more.
Ergonomics is technically defined as the study of work, but it in the sense of workplace safety, is the practice of fitting a job to the person. Virtually any kind of workplace is at risk for ergonomic hazards. Office workers sitting at a computer might strain their wrists as easily as a construction worker repeating the same motion over and over again. The goal is to create spaces that are comfortable to work in and tasks that do not overexert or strain the worker.
Although OSHA does not have a specific standard regulating ergonomics, related citations are issued under the General Duty Clause. According to OSHA, an effective ergonomic process will include:
- Support from management: As with any successful safety program, there must be commitment from management. Early on, management should define objectives for the ergonomic process and communicate with supervisors and staff members.
- Worker participation: Employees should be involved from the beginning as they can provide important hazard information regarding their job. Additionally, frontline workers have valuable insight as to what ergonomic changes may or may not work.
- Hazard Identification: It’s critical to identify the ergonomic issues before someone becomes injured. Take a walk around the facility and take note of any hazards that could be eliminated, reduced, or controlled.
- Training: Just like any other hazard, training is a core element to keeping workers safe. Employees should understand what ergonomics is, the importance of it, and how to spot ergonomic hazards in the workplace.
- Early reporting: Encourage employees to report ergonomic hazards. The earlier a report is filed, the earlier the risk can be taken care of and the less likely it will result in injury or illness.
- Hazard controls: Starting with elimination, employers should evaluate each type of control within the Hierarchy of Hazard Control. If any are feasible, they should be implemented.
- Evaluation: An ergonomic process can only continue being effective if it is periodically evaluated. Whether it’s a few times a year or an annual assessment, assess the effectiveness of the process and determine if the goals and objectives have been met.