Ergonomics In The Workplace Essay, Research Paper
Ouch! My Back Hurts!
Ergonomics and Occupational Health and Safety
Ouch! My back hurts! In today’s demanding workplace there are more workers complaining about back aches, neck strains, and shoulder stiffness than ever before. What are the causes of these injuries? How can they be prevented? The principles of ergonomics can be employed by management to reduce the numerous cumulative musculoskeletal injuries present in the work environment. The term ergonomics derives from the Greek words “ergo” (meaning work) and “nomos” (meaning laws). It involves the interaction between humans and their working environments. A successful work station can be designed if employers “fit the job to the worker.” Designers must recognize the different physical and mental qualities of each worker, and create a work environment capable of satisfying their needs. This includes specifying certain tools and equipment, controlling environmental factors, and maintaining a healthy work organization. By fitting the work to the characteristics of the workers, health and safety in the workplace will expand upon current laws such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act. (WOR, 1992. pg. 52)
What are cumulative musculoskeletal injuries? Musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) are disorders of the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and other soft tissue. Although many injuries occur during one specific event, the majority of musculoskeletal injuries are cumulative, occurring over a period of time. Cumulative MSIs have increased ever since the transition from the industrial revolution to the computer age. New technologies have led to workplace restructuring, forcing many workers to work under unsafe conditions. Unfortunately, MSI programs have not been able to keep up with new innovations. This leaves all workers prone to injury. Another problem with MSIs is that too few workers report their injuries. Some workers are unaware of cumulative MSIs, and fail to realize they may be experiencing a slowly developing injury. Others fail to report to or bother employers because of job scarcity or other economic reasons. Workers and supervisors must be aware that continuing to work with pain will only contribute to MSIs. The right decision would be to seek medical treatment as soon as MSI symptoms materialize. Some symptoms of cumulative MSIs include pain, fatigue, and swelling in the affected area. The longer a person works with any of the symptoms, the greater the risk of permanent damage. It is also important that the worker contact the Joint Health and Safety Committee, so that they may modify the workplace to eliminate the problem. Once the symptoms have been identified, the worker should visit a physician. Treatments include elastic bandages and neck braces, cortisone injections, exercise or massage, and surgery. The treatment prescribed most often by doctors is rest. However, if a worker receives adequate rest, and then returns to the same job, then he/she will most likely re-injure the same body part. Therefore, it is essential to modify the workplace or jobs so that suffering similar injuries can be avoided. Some serious MSIs include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and white finger disease. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when swelling transpires within the carpal tunnel, the passage that allows blood vessels, tendons, and the median nerve to all run to the hand. Workers at risk include those who use their wrist in awkward movements, repetitively. Tendonitis develops when awkward postures cause small tears in tendons. Since tendons do not have any blood supply, they heal very slowly. Thus, if tears become repetitive and do not get the chance to heal, severe inflammation can develop. Tendonitis is most commonly seen in hand, wrist and shoulder injuries, as well as foot injuries. Finally, white finger diseases occur when blood vessels and nerves in the hand become constricted due to prolonged exposure to cold and vibration. The loss of blood flow to the fingers causes them to turn white and feel numb. These three cumulative MSIs can result from a poorly designed workplace. Overall, this description of cumulative MSIs will help people understand the seriousness and importance of designing a safe work environment.
(WOR, 1992. pg. 6-12, pg. 25-27)
Ergonomics can prevent high risk factors associated with cumulative MSIs. The two categories of risk factors include job demands and workplace components. Job demands involve the risks that the body is exposed to when performing work. There are three types of job demands, posture, force, and repetition. Each demand can lead to various cumulative MSIs. The first job demand is posture. Posture is the position workers assume to do a task. When employees have a hard time adjusting to the work environment, they usually develop awkward and static postures. Awkward postures occur when the job requires the body to bend or twist away from a neutral position. When workers are forced into these positions, the ligaments and the muscles must work harder and lose their ability to protect joints underneath. Muscles will tire making it difficult to move joints. Static postures require the body to hold the same position for a long period of time. When workers are in a constant state, blood circulation decreases, and this results in lack of nutrients in the muscles. Eventually muscles will become uncomfortable and very painful. Workers who must sit all day may suffer back pains caused by compressed discs and stress on ligaments and tendons. Whereas, workers who stand still all day suffer from similar back pains caused by stress on the legs. Also, when standing for a long time, blood tends to pool in the veins of the legs. This leads to fatigue and discomfort. Both awkward and static postures contribute to cumulative MSIs. Ergonomics can be used in these situations to modify the work environments so that workers maintain neutral postures. Neutral postures allow the worker to work with maximum efficiency and use the least amount of energy. They maintain health and safety in the workplace. Therefore, ergonomics must be used to prevent cumulative MSIs through awkward and static postures. It can also be used to prevent excessive force distributed by workers. Many jobs demand forceful exertions that may overload muscles, tendons, and lead to cumulative MSIs. This force used by workers is associated with lifting, pulling, pushing and reaching. To reduce workplace injuries, a workplace should be deigned to allow easy transporting of objects. This will reduce the amount of force used by employees. Finally, the repetition evident in jobs can lead to a number of injuries. Repetition involves movements that wear down the body over time. When muscles are used constantly without rest, the blood supply to the muscles decrease. This causes muscles to cramp and tire. If repetition continues even further, other muscles will take over and eventually become damaged. Therefore, a workplace designed to allow tasks to vary will greatly reduce incidents of cumulative MSIs. (WOR, 1992. pg. 13-15)
Workplace components also have various risk factors, but like job demands, they can be improved through ergonomics. The five components of the workplace involve the risks in the work being done that create job demands. They include risks in work station design, equipment and tools, manual materials handling, environmental factors and work organization.
Firstly, the design of the work station must fit the physical attributes of the employees. Work stations are areas where people conduct their work. When designing the work station work heights and reach distances must be considered. Both involve postures assumed by the worker. In all workplace’s, a neutral posture should be maintained by employees. This can be done either by designing for extremes, designing for a range of workers, or designing for the individual. In all three design strategies, ergonomics is used in conjunction with anthropometry, the study of the physical dimensions or size of the human body. When designing for extremes, work stations must accommodate workers with all different sizes. This means that neutral postures should be achieved with both short and tall workers. Designing for a range of workers involves implementing adjustable items, equipment, and tools in the workplace, to fit the needs of many workers. This gives workers the convenience of adjusting the workplace to fit their sizes. Finally, designing for the individual involves fitting an entire work station to one worker. However, this is very rare because there are usually more than one employees in a work station. Some possible MSIs that can develop in poorly designed work stations include back strain and pain caused by bending and reaching by tall and short people, and muscle strains caused by awkward and static postures. The MSIs can greatly be reduced by redesigning the work station through the principles of ergonomics.
(WOR, 1992. pg. 16-18)
The second workplace component focuses on the tools and equipment used in various jobs. Most equipment and tools have been designed without consideration for the workers who use them. Thus, many workers adopt awkward and static postures. In order to prevent MSIs in the workplace, these tools and equipment must be designed to “fit” the workers who use them. Equipment design must consider the physical features of workers, allowing for easy operation and proper maintenance of neutral postures. They can be redesigned to make controls and gauges easily accessible and reduce vibration that can lead to white finger disease. Tools can be redesigned to provide better grips in reducing excessive force, and have a balanced weight, not putting too much pressure on a particular body part.
(WOR, 1992. pg. 18-20)
Manual materials handling, the third workplace component, involve the movement of items from one place to another. Many jobs require lifting, pushing, and carrying items. The nature of these activities force workers to place a lot of pressure on their backs. This can lead to various back relating cumulative MSIs including back sprains of muscles and ligaments. Ergonomics can prevent these injuries with the help from biomechanics. Biomechanics studies the forces required to do a job and the effects of these forces on the body. When a worker lifts, carries, or pushes an object, he/she exerts a force to counteract the load. Therefore, a workplace should be designed to minimize the force needed to do the work. This can be done by using mechanical aids such as elevating conveyors or hoists, using carts to move objects instead of manually carrying them, and having knowledge of how much a certain item weighs before lifting it. These are all examples of improving the work environment through the use of ergonomics to fit the work to the worker. Redesigning the tools and equipment will greatly reduce the MSIs in the workplace. (WOR, 1992. pg. 20-21)
Another workplace component is environmental factors. Work place surroundings can play a key role in allowing people to do jobs more comfortably. There are three main areas relating to environmental factors. The first involves the temperature in the workplace. If the workplace is too hot or too cold, the bodies of workers will have to work harder to maintain a normal temperature. In cold areas, blood vessels constrict, cutting off oxygen to nourish muscles. This can lead to white finger disease. In addition, workers will be forced to grip tools tighter. Therefore, it is very important for employers to design a work station with a comfortable temperature. The second area relating to environmental factors is lighting. The extent to how bright or dim lighting is in the workplace can have major affects on cumulative MSIs. If lighting is too bright, glare can cause workers to adopt awkward postures in order to properly do their job. Dim lighting can force workers to squint and pay more attention to the object or display on hand. This can cause serious eyestrain and can also lead to poor postures. When designing the workplace, employers must make sure that workers receive the right amount of light. Finally, the third area of environmental factors includes vibrations. Excessive vibration causes blood vessels to go into spasm, shrinking them. This reduces the blood flow to muscles depriving the vessels of oxygen. This also contributes to white finger disease. Employers should make sure that electric tools and equipment have minimum vibration. This will reduce the number of cumulative MSIs in the workplace.
(WOR, 1992. pg. 21-23)
Work organization is the final workplace component. It involves the organization of work with respect to what, how, when and where the job must be done. Today, there is great emphasis placed on productivity. Sometimes, employers may overlook the needs of workers, expecting them to work harder. This can increase stress for workers and lead to muscular fatigue. Therefore, when managing the work environment, employers should centre on the needs of workers. This can greatly reduce the work-related stress experienced by workers. Employers can also expand worker needs by enabling workers to participate in work decisions, granting them breaks, and varying tasks to make jobs more pleasant. (WOR, 1992. pg. 23)
Ergonomics isn’t written under any laws, acts, or legislations. It is a principle that employers use in order to benefit workers. The Occupational Health and Safety Act and Workplace Safety Insurance Act (1997) are laws that both strongly promote the prevention of hazards and injuries in the workplace. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) provides the legal rights for all workers and supervisors in Ontario. Under OHSA, workers have the responsibility to report any risks of which they know and to follow established health and safety procedures. This right for workers greatly reduces the risk of cumulative MSIs, by enabling them the to work in a safe and healthy environment. Supervisors have the responsibility to advise workers concerning potential hazards, and must ensure that workers work safely and use the required equipment and protective devices. The supervision of health and safety in the workplace can be very important. Since both parties are very knowledgeable of the work environment, they should be able to recognize potential hazards and report them. Finally, employers have the responsibility under OHSA to take all precautions reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of workers. This places a duty on employers to reduce cumulative MSIs. In addition, employers must also provide workers with the equipment and materials they need to do their work. Employers should consider specifying each tool to the worker in order to reduce injuries. In general, employer’s roles are very critical, because they must coordinate the health and safety rules throughout the organization. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) was implemented in 1997 to replace the Workers Compensation Act. It preaches self-reliance amongst all workplace parties to cooperate with an early and safe return to work. Overall, the use of ergonomics goes beyond these acts in providing health and safety for workers and supervisors. Applying the principles of ergonomics at the workplace will not only improve work conditions and accommodate those injured with a successful return to work, but prevent MSIs and disease before the develop. (WOR, 1992. pg. 68-69)
In conclusion, it is very beneficial for organizations to use ergonomics. It has been shown to greatly reduce MSIs in the workplace. In addition, ergonomics benefits workers by sustaining a healthy and safer work environment, reducing mental and physical stress. Employers benefit using ergonomics as workers increase production, improve their quality of work, and reduce absenteeism. The risk factors seen in the workplace were also prevented by ergonomics. Awkward and static postures were seen less. Furthermore, many MSIs were eliminated because employers deigned their work stations, tools and equipment, and workplace organizations to “fit” the workers. Overall, with the help from the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, ergonomics will aid employees in making the places they work much safer.
Workplace Health and Safety Agency. A Head-to-Toe Ergonomics Training Program. 1992.