What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the science of fitting the job or work environment to the worker. The goal is to find the best fit between you and your job to keep you as safe as possible.  The main areas that ergonomics would address include:

  • The physical characteristics and capabilities of the worker (including body size, strength)
  • The layout of the work environment
  • Tools and materials used by the worker
  • How job duties are performed by the worker

Why should you know about ergonomics?

There are certain risk factors that are common in many work settings that can contribute to injuries on the job. Injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and back injury, and tendonitis are common workplace injuries. The good news is that these problems can often be avoided if proper ergonomics are used in the workplace.

What should you look for?

Ergonomic risk factors are broken down into 6 categories. Most injuries are due to a combination of risk factors that occur with repeated exposure over a length of time. The risk factors include:

1.    Awkward Postures:

  • Posture is the position that your body is in.
  • A position is awkward when your muscles work harder than they need to in order to complete a task.
  • Examples include repeated reaching, twisting/bending the back, kneeling, squatting, working overhead with your arms, or holding a fixed position.

To reduce this problem:

  • Reposition the work or reposition yourself to eliminate awkward postures
  • Move closer to your workspace to reduce reaching forward
  • Raise workspaces to avoid bending
  • Use a ladder to avoid reaching for high spaces
  • Swivel your chair or move your feet instead of twisting
  • Change positions often

2.    Force

  • Force is the amount of physical effort required to complete a task or to maintain control of equipment or tools
  • Increased force on the muscles and tendons can lead to pain and injury

To reduce this problem:

  • Use mechanical assistance when possible
  • Divide a load into smaller parts
  • Use two hands to lift
  • Use your whole hand, not just the fingertips
  • Get help

3.    Repetition

  • Repetition is doing the same action over and over again
  • This puts stress on the muscles and tendons

To reduce this problem:

  • Take breaks while working to stretch (about every ten minutes)
  • Pace yourself

4.    Contact Stress

  • Contact stress occurs when the body is pressed against a hard or sharp surface
  • Too much pressure is placed on the nerves, tendons, and blood vessels  under the skin surface
  • This can be seen when marks appear on the skin that do not go away within a few moments

To reduce this problem:

  • Place a pad or supportive cushion between your skin and the surface
  • Avoid resting on hard or sharp edges when possible
  • Be careful with tools that place concentrated pressure on the middle or base of the palm

5.    Vibration

  • Vibration puts stress on nerves, tendons, and muscles when they absorb the motion over a duration of time
  • The severity of the risk depends on the length of the exposure, frequency of the vibration, and barriers that can absorb the impact

To reduce this problem:

  • Limit your exposure to vibration when possible
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Use absorbent barriers between your body and the vibrating object to decrease the impact of the vibration

6.    Temperature Extremes

  • Working in extreme temperatures can cause fatigue and slower recovery
  • The body is working to protect itself from the temperatures so injury is more likely to occur

To reduce this problem:

  • Wear clothing that is appropriate for the temperature
  • Avoid bulky clothing that can interfere with your ability to work properly