Common examples of ergonomic hazards in the workplace are easy to avoid, if you know what to look for. Once you improve the ergonomics of your workplace environment, you’ll boost worker well-being and safety.
What Is an Ergonomic Hazard in the Workplace?
Ergonomic practices address the intersection between people and the made environment. The goal is to design and arrange space, objects, and systems so that the user experiences the safest, most natural, and most efficient movement and body position possible.
An ergonomic hazard is any interaction with the made world that causes the user discomfort or strain. There are three primary types of ergonomic hazards: objects, environments, and systems that result in poor posture or unnatural, uncomfortable, or awkward movements.
When you’re looking for ergonomic hazards in the workplace, consider workstations and desks; all tools, equipment, and machinery workers use to do their jobs; and the physical processes workers perform.
The Link Between Ergonomic Hazards in the Workplace and Safety
While no employer wants their workers to be uncomfortable, it’s important to understand that ergonomics isn’t just about comfort; it’s directly linked to safety and injury prevention. Poor ergonomics contributes to muscle strain, muscle imbalances, and fatigue.
Many muscle strains result from performing the same motion over and over again. These become repetitive stress injuries, which are some of the most common workplace injuries. Ergonomics alone won’t eliminate this type of injury (even if you do a movement correctly, if you do it too often, you’re bound to get tired or overuse your muscles and connective tissue). However, proper ergonomics will significantly reduce fatigue and strain.
Several common work activities pose repetitive stress ergonomic hazards. Examples include typing and mousing, which can result in carpal tunnel syndrome.
According to Nolo.com, other work-related actions that cause repetitive stress injuries include:
- Overhead work
- Auto mechanical work
- Stocking shelves
- Massaging clients
Poorly designed or maintained tools and equipment may require workers to perform awkward movements or to contort their body in order to perform a task. Repeated day after day, this causes excessive fatigue and may result in an injury. Fatigue is another of the most common causes of workplace injuries.
A desk setup that contributes to poor posture will cause neck and back strain and stress. According to Andrew Mohler, writing for Spine-health.com, “The stress from poor posture can lead to back pain by causing problems with your muscles, discs, and joints.” This will eventually lead to injury.
These examples highlight that many issues associated with poor ergonomics develop over time. Considering that we spend upwards of one-third our lives at work, proper ergonomics in the workplace is critical to long-term well-being and injury prevention.
How to Prevent Ergonomic Hazards in the Workplace
Now that we are familiar with some examples of ergonomic hazards in the workplace, we can get to the important work of preventing them.
The Work Environment
In a perfect world, every workstation and desk would be custom designed for the person who is using it. But this is unrealistic. A better approach is to give your workers the tools and education they need to make sure their work area fits them.
Include ergonomics as a topic to cover in safety moments. Hire an ergonomics expert to give a presentation to your staff and work with employees one on one. Provide workers with the resources they need to change elements of their workspace that are causing problems.
Tools and Machines
Make sure all tools and machines are ergonomically designed. Go through your entire tool and machine inventory and see where you can improve. You may be surprised by how non-ergonomic some traditional designs are, and what better alternatives exist.
Consider the humble utility knife. Slice® has taken this tool’s ergonomics to the next level with the Ergo Pull™, featured on the Smart-Retracting Utility Knife.
Ergo Pull allows the user to pull and hold the slider back to keep the blade exposed. This pulling moves in the same direction as the cut. The position of the slider, when engaged, results in a solid, balanced grip with less rotational hand strain. Traditional designs require the user to rotate their hand awkwardly.
Not all employees are right handed. Asking lefties to use tools designed for their non-dominant hand is sure to cause discomfort. Slice tools address this issue with all tools, including all three utility knife models. If the blade is oriented for right-handers, remove it, flip it around, and, ta da! You’ve got a tool for a lefty. Bonus: this process doesn’t require any extra tools. Use this same process to change the handedness on the Slice box cutters, pen cutters, and industrial knives.
Be aware of the actions your workers must perform, and make sure each person knows how to (and is able to) perform these actions correctly.
For example, warehouse workers move boxes. Be sure that yours know how to lift, carry, and put down boxes correctly. This sounds like an overly simple safety topic. However, some of the most common injuries are caused by improper lifting technique.
This video covers 10 rules for proper lifting:
If you have a work environment where workers are asked to perform physical processes, like assembly line work, be sure that they can perform every step easily and comfortably.
What tasks do your workers perform? Have you taught them the best way to do these tasks? Does the equipment they interact with allow for efficient, natural movement?
Comfortable Employees Are Happier and Injury-Free
Safe, injury-free, comfortable employees are happy employees. Happy employees are more productive, more efficient, and have fewer absences. Looking carefully around your environment, identify examples of ergonomic hazards in the workplace so you can prevent the issues associated with them and keep your employees happy and healthy.