In 2019, approximately 285,240 workers needed emergency room treatment following a non-fatal workplace injury. Of these, roughly 47,280 incidents were categorized as ergonomic injuries. Examples of ergonomic injuries include pinched nerves, back pain, and carpal tunnel issues. These injuries occur when the body uses muscles and tendons in awkward positions, when there is repetitive strain, or when there is overexertion of a particular body part. From a macro viewpoint, lower back pain affects workers most, as numerous industries like agriculture, construction, and office work pose multiple back hazards, for example.
As you can see from the above image, ergonomics impacts numerous areas and includes an intricate network of factors, symptoms, and effects.
Discomfort and pain can easily result when a person works in awkward postures, with increased physical exertion or constant movement. Under these circumstances, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels are often harmed. Injuries of this type are known as musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs.
Creating and maintaining a healthy, safe workplace is crucial for productivity and is an employer's legal obligation to their employees. This article will explain ergonomics, its impact on worker health and safety, some OSHA resources related to ergonomics in the workplace, and personal protective equipment (PPE) users might wear to avoid ergonomic-related injuries.
Ergonomic Definition and Meaning
What is ergonomics? Merriam Webster defines it as "an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use, so that [they] interact most efficiently and safely." In layman's terms, it studies how people interact with and engage in their working environment.
Ergonomics uses several techniques to reduce musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace successfully. Here is a quick rundown of some of the disciplines associated with evaluating the ergonomics of an environment or workplace:
- Anthropometry: the scientific study of the human body's measurements and proportions, including size and shape
- Biomechanics: the study of how the body moves, explaining characteristics of the human body in mechanical terms and how parts of the body work together to produce movement
- Environmental physics: focuses on determining how a person's physical environment, such as climate and light, affect their biological and physical processes
- Applied psychology: the application of psychological principles to solve problems in human behavior, including at work
- Social psychology: examines how people's behaviors, thoughts, and feelings are influenced by others, especially in a group setting
Environmental physics has the most significant impact on personal protective equipment (PPE) of all these disciplines. Scientific studies in this area impact the development of safety-related clothing, such as insulated jackets or gloves for winter or cooling gear for hot summer months. Light concerns also play a part in eye protection, as discussed in our blue light article and Cannabis article. Those trained in the field of ergonomics work to find solutions to these problems.
What is the goal of ergonomics?
Poorly designed, non-ergonomic workplaces cause thousands of worker injuries each year. By incorporating an ergonomic design, these injury rates can come down significantly. Organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain that the goal of the workplace should be. Ergonomic measures should minimize or eliminate soft tissue injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) triggered by sudden or prolonged exposure to force vibration, repetitive motion, or awkward posture. In other words, prevent people from getting injured at work or experiencing discomfort while performing their jobs by applying ergonomic principles in the workplace.
Examples of MSDs Identified by OSHA
To accomplish this goal, industrial hygienists often focus on engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE). An example of engineering control would be changing the height of one's desk, whereas administrative control would deal with workplace policies around sitting at one's desk. PPE includes work gloves, back braces, etc., which we will highlight below.
The ultimate goal is to tailor the job to the person by recognizing and addressing each person's physical capabilities and limitations within a specific work setting. It is accomplished in various ways: modifying existing equipment, adjusting work practices, acquiring new equipment and tools, and increasing recovery time. For example, an ergonomically-sound office would involve determining the placement of computer monitors, the height of desks and chairs, and the comfort or discomfort of completing repetitive tasks.
You will find the CDC's Musculoskeletal Health Program, ergonomic recommendations, and musculoskeletal health-related research by clicking the above image.
OSHA and Common Ergonomic-Related Hazards
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the governing agency that sets and enforces many safety standards designed to prevent worker injuries. This includes considerations regarding ergonomics. If there are no specific guidelines for a particular industry, OSHA will address the ergonomic hazards under the General Duty Clause, which is found in Section 5 of the OSH Act of 1970. Essentially, the act states that all worksites must attempt to do everything possible to limit recognized hazards. Within the scope of ergonomic hazards, here are some common ones workers encounter:
- Awkward postures – moving the body in non-neutral postures statically against gravity.
- Contact stress – prolonged periods of contact or pressure by parts of the body, such as fingers, wrists, or feet, with objects in the environment
- Energy expenditure – the amount of energy or effort required to complete a task; too much may cause fatigue.
- Forceful exertions – lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling requiring physical effort.
- Lighting Levels and Glares – found in specific industries and applications
- Pressure points – the points on the body that may experience contact stress, such as when squeezing objects or leaning against surfaces
- Repetitive motions – frequent and potential overuse by parts of the body performing work
- Temperature – the degree of environmental heat in which a task is to be performed; excessive hot or cold can be dangerous.
- Vibration – the consistent shaking of vehicles, vibrating platforms, and tools
Here are some work activities that ergonomic professionals and industrial hygienists often address:
- Excessive exerting force, such as lifting heavy objects and moving heavy materials
- Handling vibrating equipment
- Operating in workspaces with harmful light emissions
- Performing work in cold environments, such as in meatpacking and poultry processing
- Repetitively and for extended periods, performing tasks that place stress on the body, such as reaching, kneeling, or bending.
- Sitting in a chair with inadequate back support
- Standing for extended periods in a repetitive work environment.
- Using tools that require awkward positions for operation and that may involve pressure.
By eliminating hazards, ergonomics often increases worker efficiency and productivity while reducing physical demands and discomfort placed on individuals. It also helps lower injury rates and cut overall employee turnover.
Below, we highlight OSHA's ergonomic assessment tools and several other safety resources to help worksites identify ergonomic-related hazards and make necessary changes.
OSHA Assessment and Safety Resources
It is possible to create an ergonomic workplace, primarily if you use the specialized guidance provided by OSHA. They recommend conducting a periodic ergonomic review of facilities, examining various reports, and observing work processes involved with daily operations. The review should include an examination of OSHA 300 injury logs, first aid logs, near miss reports, workers' compensation records, and employee reports of problem areas within the company.
Thankfully, OSHA provides many resources to help with this kind of review. The OSHA Ergonomic Assessment Checklist is a comprehensive guide to reviewing the potential ergonomic hazards in your workplace. You can also utilize their ergonomics workbook for additional information and guidance.
In addition to OSHA's tools, here are some other resources, including additional valuable ergonomic articles that will aid in developing an ergonomic work program.
OSHA and Government Resources
Additional Safety Resources
Best Examples of Products and PPE for Ergonomic Relief
Let's look at the highest-rated Amazon products for each of the following categories of items you are likely to find in the average workplace.
The Duramont Ergonomic Adjustable Chair boasts breathable mesh to keep you comfortable and relaxed. Another essential ergonomic factor is the fully adjustable back support to help workers maintain good posture. Ergonomic settings must be adapted to each worker, and this customizable chair accomplishes that goal.
Typing is a repetitive task that leads many workers to experience musculoskeletal pain and health conditions. The Logitech K60 Wireless Wave Ergonomic Keyboard is designed to combat repetitive stress injuries associated with spending long periods using a keyboard.
Repetitive muscle strain can also be avoided by providing workers with an ergonomically-designed computer mouse. So, what is the best ergonomic mouse?
You can't go wrong with the Logitech MX Vertical Wireless Mouse. Logitech conducted a study in 2017 that found that their vertical mouse, which positions the hand like a handshake, prevents forearm twisting and reduces muscular strain by 10%.
The Everlasting Comfort Office Foot Rest features ergonomic memory foam and a comfortable stool pillow. Unlike the example shown above, the leg cushion on the Everlasting Comfort is shaped like a teardrop, supporting the worker's natural foot arch and enhancing comfort.
Computer Blue Light Blocking Glasses
MCR Safety's VL210MB blue light blocking glasses feature MAXBLUE™ technology to protect workers' eyes against damaging blue light. MAXBLUE™ lenses offer a clear, faintly mirrored lens without any color distortion. These state-of-the-art MAXBLUE™ lenses filter out 41% of blue light and eliminate many symptoms of blue light exposure, including eye strain, dry eyes, and blurry vision.
You can learn more about these types of glasses by visiting our article, A Break Down of Blue Light Glasses.
Lighter weight gloves put less strain on a worker's hands, which helps reduce overall fatigue. They also assist with grip and dexterity. An 18-gauge glove is the lightest weight shell you'll find workers wearing; we often refer to it as featherweight hand protection. These are an excellent glove choice for workers who perform repetitive movements with their hands all day. You no longer have to sacrifice cut protection to wear comfortable work gloves. Check out the different nitrile-coated and PU-coated cut-resistant 18-gauge gloves we offer!
One of OSHA's recommendations to protect against vibration hazards is to use padding to reduce direct contact with vibrating surfaces. MCR Safety's 964 offers a protective padded palm to reduce impact and vibration. And its super-stretch material ensures you've got superior flexibility with that extra padding!
Another of OSHA's ergonomic recommendations is wearing snug-fitting thermal work gloves in cold environments to help grasp items. Our dedicated Winter Insulated Work Glove page highlights the broad array of our insulated product lineup. The above image highlights some of the top-selling styles we offer.
As we highlighted above, environmental physics deals with a person's physical environment, including temperature and climate. Extreme heat is one environmental condition workers face across numerous industries. One of the best tools for beating the heat is cooling gear, which helps the body maintain a safe temperature and helps minimize the effects of heat exhaustion that workers can experience when operating in hot conditions. Check out our latest article, Stay Chilled with Comfortable Cooling Towels and Gear.
What is an ergonomic workspace?
- Plenty of guides with information about how to create an ergonomic workspace are available. For example, this guide from eLearning Industry explains that the most critical steps are keyboard placement, monitor placement, finding a comfortably-designed mouse, and using a standing desk or getting an ergonomically-friendly chair.
Are ergonomic keyboards worth it?
- In our experience, yes! Ergonomic keyboards come in many shapes, styles, and designs. They are a straightforward and easy solution to address and prevent ergonomic injuries among workers who spend much time typing or using computers.
Are armrests good for ergonomics?
- There have been several studies that look at the ergonomic benefits of armrests. The short answer is that a properly-adjusted armrest can provide excellent support for employees who work at desks.
What are the human factors that affect ergonomics?
- Ergonomics is not strictly about physical design and engineering. Human factors and ergonomics is a method of applying psychological and physiological principles to product design and engineering. To reduce human error and increase productivity, this process also increases safety and reduces discomfort by examining how people behave in the workplace. The goal of human factors is to reduce human error, increase productivity, and enhance safety, system availability, and comfort with a specific focus on the interaction between the human and the engineering system.
How to sit ergonomically at a desk?
- For those who spend countless hours sitting behind a desk, there is a proper way to do so. You'll want to look over the Mayo Clinic's guide to ensure you're in the correct chair, with the proper alignment, and situated at the perfect distance from your desk.
Ergonomically Protecting Workers
MCR Safety believes in protecting workers from all kinds of safety risks in the workplace, including ergonomic concerns. We may not carry every ergonomic product on the market, such as back braces and knee pads. Still, we carry numerous products that can improve a worker's environment and work experience. We hope the above article has provided insight into the world of ergonomics and given you some ideas about the PPE and top-rated products that could further protect you from ergonomic-related hazards. When you think of MCR Safety, just remember our pledge, "We Protect People!"
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No matter your industry, we have the personal protective equipment you need.
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