Ergonomics In The Workplace

By:    Published: July 30, 2012

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One of the latest buzz words in the professional world seems to be “ergonomics.” Have you ever wondered what this term actually means and what it has to do with your job? Read this article to learn more about ergonomics in the workplace and how your employer can (and should) implement it on the job.

The Basics Of Ergonomics

Ergonomics actually refers to the science of creating efficient working environments. More specifically, the purpose of ergonomics is to find the best way to make a job safer and more comfortable for an employee. This is done by designing an employee’s working situation – including their workspace, their tools, their tasks, etc. – to meet their individual needs, capabilities and limitations.

There are several goals to ergonomics in the workplace:

  1. Reduce discomfort
  2. Reduce stress
  3. Eliminate injuries
  4. Improve job satisfaction
  5. Boost productivity

From this list of goals, it’s clear that, when properly implemented, ergonomics can be just as beneficial for an employee as it can be for a business owner, manager or supervisor. Many employers strive to create better ergonomics in their workplace, but even those who don’t are often required to by law (at least to some extent).

In some situations, there are challenges or barriers that make implementing ergonomic design more difficult, such as costs, legal restrictions or a lack of resources. These are some hurdles that employers may have to overcome in an effort to use ergonomic design in their workplace. To learn more about the basics of ergonomics, read What Is Ergonomics? A Definitive Guide.

Physical And Environmental Stressors

The need for ergonomics in the workplace stems from the various stressors or “ergonomic hazards” that employees may encounter over the course of their workday. These stressors can usually be categorized as either physical (directly affecting their body) or environmental (indirectly affecting their health) factors. Anything that creates a health hazard in the workplace can be considered an ergonomic hazard. The following are some examples of common ergonomic hazards in the workplace:

  • Talking on the phone for long periods of time while holding the phone to your ear with your shoulder, creating a crick in the neck.
  • Staring at a computer screen for long periods of time, creating eyestrain.
  • Back pain from poor posture while sitting in a desk chair all day.
  • Using a vibrating tool, creating tension in the muscles and nerves.
  • Overuse of muscles in the arm to perform a repeating pulling motion on factory machinery.
  • Loud noises from factory machinery, contributing to hearing loss.
  • Poor indoor lighting which leads to frequent headaches or eyestrain.

Each of these situations are examples of ergonomic hazards which need to be identified and addressed using ergonomics in the workplace.

Ergonomic Office Equipment

One of the main ways that business owners have been able to reduce physical stressors in the workplace is to implement the use of ergonomic office equipment. With millions of people doing most of their work sitting at a desk in front of a computer, this is a very important area where ergonomic design is needed.

Ergonomic office equipment can contribute to a much more comfortable and more productive workplace. The following are some examples of the most popular types of ergonomic office equipment and how they address physical stressors in the workplace:

  • Chairs with special back supports improve posture while sitting at a desk.
  • Adjustable keyboards can be heightened or lowered to ease wrist discomfort.
  • Wrist cushions can be placed in front of a keyboard or computer mouse to provide relief to the wrist and arm, while preventing carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Computer monitors with adjustable screen brightness can ease eyestrain.
  • Phone headsets can reduce the neck strain caused by holding a phone to your ear with your shoulder.

Injury Prevention

Many employers need to do more than just buy ergonomic office equipment in order to truly address the physical and environmental stressors in their workplace. For example, numerous stressors exist in a factory or industrial setting that may require different ergonomic solutions. Ear plugs may help reduce excessive noise, while gloves or cushioned handles may reduce physical strain while operating equipment. Other steps may need to be taken to prevent the risk of injury or death when working with heavy machinery.

These situations need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. However, there are some guidelines in place that can help guide business owners who are looking for ergonomic solutions for their workplace. These guidelines are administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In addition to general tools and solutions for any workplace, there are also industry-specific standards which employers are expected to meet. These apply to industries like printing, health care, poultry processing, baggage handling, sewing and beverage delivery. Employees or employers looking to learn more about these guidelines should visit the OSHA website at www.osha.gov.

Finding ergonomic solutions for the workplace is an ongoing process that can’t be solved in one day. Employers are encouraged to involve their employees in the process of finding these ergonomic solutions by offering ergonomic training and opportunities for input.

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