One of the ongoing challenges inherent to workplace safety is managing ergonomic risks that can cause injuries and costly workers’ compensation claims. Ergonomic risk is present in every type of workplace in every industry, in any task that requires a worker to perform a labor of any kind. Those hazards are often most prevalent in high-exertion jobs such as those in manufacturing or warehousing facilities, but other, less demanding roles such as office jobs also involve ergonomic risk. The primary challenge for safety leaders in today’s world is to identify ergonomic hazards in the workplace, develop effective interventions, and deploy improvements that reduce the risk of injury or chronic pain.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of solutions for the most common workplace ergonomic hazards, from ergonomic assessments and industrial athlete training to technology-based solutions and education. Let’s explore some of the most common ergonomic risks and how to fix them.
1) Workstation & Equipment Hazards – Solution: Ergonomic Assessment
The core idea powering the field of ergonomics is fitting the job and the tools needed to complete the job to the individual worker performing the tasks. Ill-fitting and antiquated equipment and poor layout can pose serious safety risks to employees, whether because the tools are outdated and make tasks more difficult or because they are poorly fitted to the worker. Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), which account for about one-third of all work-related injuries, can often be traced back to workstation design or tooling issues.
Workstations, such as assembly tables or even office desktops, must be adjusted to fit each individual worker. Monitors should be placed at eye level for the employee so that the worker does not need to bend their neck down or up to look at the screen. Likewise, assembly tables and other manual workstations should be placed at a height that allows the employee to perform their tasks without bending the lower back, arching the shoulders, or continuously flexing the arms or wrists. Common work-related injuries such as Carpal tunnel syndrome are often caused by improper equipment orientation, which leads to wrist strain.
Fortunately, these issues are easily addressed with an ergonomic assessment conducted by a certified specialist. During an ergonomic risk assessment, the provider will analyze departments and individual workstations to identify problems in both engineering and administrative controls that can lead to chronic pain or soft-tissue injuries.
2) Overexertion Injuries – Solution: Industrial Athlete Training, Fit for Work Testing and Strength & Conditioning
Overexertion injuries are another very common category of workplace risk for employees, especially those in manufacturing, warehousing, and specialized industries such as aviation and baggage handling. Tasks requiring large amounts of force, such as lifting heavy items or performing manual tasks overhead, and even repetitive motions over prolonged periods of time can involve the risk of strains and sprains, even as these types of tasks are often necessary to fulfill a worker’s job responsibilities.
To mitigate the risk associated with these tasks, employers can seek industrial athlete training, which includes science-backed concepts from the fields of biomechanics, physics, and sports medicine. Athletic and Personal trainers can help teach workers safe movement techniques for high-exertion tasks, helping eliminate the inherent risk while instilling easy-to-retain behaviors that improve performance and safety outcomes across the board.
Similarly, strength and conditioning programs can replace traditional stretch and flex programs, helping boost workers’ overall fitness and flexibility. Higher strength levels translate to lower risk of overexertion injuries, which can cost employers between $40,000 and $80,000 per case.
3) Fatigue – Solution: Ergonomic Assessments, Wearable Technology
Fatigue is a wide-ranging problem in virtually every industry, and increases the risk for MSDs and other ergonomic injuries as well as accidents. While fatigue stems largely from inadequate levels of quality sleep, poor workstation configuration, outdated tooling, and inefficient task design can exacerbate existing fatigue.
With an ergonomic site risk assessment, your specialist will help you identify problems in scheduling and rostering practices that can contribute to fatigue, including consecutive night shift assignments. Adding breaks throughout shifts can also help combat fatigue.
Wearable technology such as wrist-mounted fatigue monitors regularly checks in on employees’ energy and concentration levels throughout a shift, identifying when performance declines and notifying managers of possible risks. Other solutions such as sensor wearables and motion capture can quickly and effectively identify the areas of risk that need to be addressed. Predictive software can also analyze your worksites and schedules for factors that might exacerbate fatigue, providing a roadmap for improvements.
4) Chronic Pain – Solution: Industrial Athlete Training, Strength & Conditioning, Pain Relief Therapies
Chronic pain is an extremely costly problem for employers of all types, especially those in high-exertion industries. A multitude of factors can contribute to employee pain levels, and the consequences can be severe—prescription pain medication usage, lost work days, decreased productivity, and mental health issues can all stem from chronic pain in workers. Repetitive motions, improperly oriented workstations, and outdated tools often lead to pain, which costs employers hundreds of billions of dollars per year across the United States.
Solutions to chronic pain include training to improve overall fitness and movement technique, as well as soft-tissue pain-relief therapies. These treatments, available on-site from a certified massage therapist or other provider, target joints, ligaments, and other tissues, helping improve blood flow and flexibility so that employees can do their jobs without pain.
5) Mental Health – Solution: Self-Care Programs, Wellness Support
It may sound counterintuitive, but mental health challenges among workers are a growing issue with ties to ergonomic and other physical workplace factors. Significant portions of today’s workforce report experiencing issues such as anxiety and depression, which can be made worse by pain, fatigue, and feelings that employers are not adequately supporting employees.
On-site services such as the pain-relief therapies and fatigue management strategies described above can help mitigate the risk of mental health issues. Virtual and app solutions can provide employees with tools that they can use in their offices, homes, and personal lives to relieve pain and achieve better rest, while also encouraging healthier habits that translate to lower injury risks.
Conclusion: Ergonomic Risks Need Modern Solutions
While there is a diverse array of factors that contribute to ergonomic risk, fatigue, chronic pain, and mental health challenges, the solutions always involve investment from the employer in a positive organizational safety culture. That starts with on-the-ground services such as ergonomic assessments and industrial athlete training and continues with ongoing support for pain and fatigue experienced by workers.
Is your organization ready to take the next step toward a healthier, safer year in 2023? Contact DORN today for a free consultation that will identify your unique safety needs and provide a long-term strategy toward a stronger bottom line: info@DORNcompanies.com