Safetip #45: Risk Factors That May Lead to Ergonomic Issues
Be Proactive in Identifying Potential Ergonomic Issues
On its website on ergonomics, OSHA highlights that an important part of the ergonomic process consists of a periodic review of facilities, workstation designs and work practices, and the overall production process, from an ergonomics perspective. While this includes identifying existing problems by reviewing past injuries and reported issues, a more forward-looking approach is to be proactive in identifying potential ergonomic issues before they result in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Observations of workplace conditions and work processes, ergonomic job analyses, workplace surveys, and worker interviews are common proactive methods for identifying risk factors that can lead to ergonomics-related injuries.
Identify the Relevant Risk Factors
OSHA lists the common risk factors that may lead to the development of MSDs. By identifying their presence in your organization, you can reduce the risk of ergonomics-related injuries:
- Exerting excessive force. Lifting heavy objects, pushing or pulling heavy loads, manually pouring materials, or maintaining control of equipment or tools.
- Performing the same or similar tasks repetitively. Performing the same motion or series of motions continually or frequently for an extended period of time.
- Working in awkward postures or being in the same posture for long periods of time. Using positions that place stress on the body (e.g. prolonged or repetitive reaching above shoulder height, kneeling, squatting, leaning over a counter, twisting the torso while lifting).
- Localized pressure into the body part. Pressing the body or part of the body (e.g. hand) against hard or sharp edges, or using the hand as a hammer.
- Cold temperatures. Especially if combined with any of the above risk factors. For example, operations in meatpacking and poultry processing occurring with a chilled product or in a cold environment.
- Vibration. Both whole body and hand-arm. Hand-arm vibration can damage small capillaries and make hand tools more difficult to control. It may cause a worker to lose feeling in the hands and arms resulting in increased force exertion to control hand-powered tools. The effects of vibration can damage the body and greatly increase the force which must be exerted for a task.
In addition, observe whether workers are:
- Modifying their tools, equipment or work area.
- Shaking their arms and hands.
- Rolling their shoulders.
- Bringing products such as back belts or wrist braces into the workplace.
These behaviors may indicate that workers are experiencing ergonomic issues. Talk to them and review their work to see if any risk factors for MSDs are present. Workers can provide important information about workplace hazards.
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