The Importance of Ergonomics – What it is and How to Improve It
Explained simply, ergonomics is about fitting a task to a person. Employees often perform jobs that expose them to injuries and illnesses due to the poor design of a workstation or tool. Assessing and identifying ergonomic risk factors can instill changes to improve the fit between job demands and the capabilities of employees. Generally, the greater the exposure to a risk factor or risk factors increases the probability of an injury or illness. Three of the greatest ergonomic risk factors are:
- Force – how often you lift/push/pull
- Repetition – how often the task is performed
- Posture – how someone holds their body while standing or sitting
Other factors include vibration, contact stress, cold temperatures and sustained exertion.
Employers can assess the workplace to determine safety and ergonomic risks. Workstation design, modified work practices and other tools can reduce or eliminate ergonomic risk factors. Job descriptions are a tool for determining the risk factors associated with each job. Examining the type of work involved can determine which part of the task needs to change. It may necessitate the use of new tools or working methods, but the overall goal of decreasing injuries and illnesses will be achievable. If a job is too physically demanding on a worker, the quality of the job may suffer. By incorporating ergonomics into the safety and productivity of the workplace, turnover and absenteeism can be decreased. The quality of the work completed can be improved and overall performance improves. Both employers and employees can benefit from the changes.
As a construction worker, there are some simple ways to reduce ergonomic stress:
- Be aware of the job you are completing. If you are required to lift a heavy load, get someone to assist you. Use your legs to push up and lift the load. Avoid using your upper body or back and do not twist your body during a lift. Injuries to the back generate the highest frequency of disabling injuries and if untreated, can persist as a health problem for months or years.
- Avoid stretching or unnecessary stress when completing overhead work. Frequent and prolonged flexion is associated with low back pain. Raising your arms continually above shoulder level is associated with shoulder disorders. Adjust scaffolds to the appropriate height or use a lifting device to hold materials in place.
- Use appropriate tools such as hammers that are designed to reduce shock. Using tools with handles that maintain a neutral wrist position eliminates the repetitive action of twisting the hands and wrists. When using vibrating tools such as jackhammers, ensure that they are equipped with built-in vibration dampers. Be sure to wear gloves to help absorb the vibrations.
- Rotate job tasks to reduce repetitiveness. Organize and pay attention to work/rest ratios to reduce fatigue and make sure to take organized breaks when scheduled.