Workplace Ergonomics – The Three Primary Risk Factors
Work-related accidents and illnesses were once far more commonplace. Most employees considered these to be the risks one must take to ensure sufficient income for their family to cope. However, as governments became more aware of the impact of lost working hours on their countries’ economies, they began introducing legislation to limit employees’ exposure to such hazards. Initially, these were seen to be either physical, chemical, or biological in origin. Later, closer studies revealed a need to focus on workplace ergonomics and its role in preventing musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). Investigations have revealed three primary factors that can expose employees to this type of risk. Let us identify these and discuss how to mitigate them.
High Force Requirement
Many of the tasks a worker must tackle daily require considerable physical effort. The constant need for exertion can quickly lead to muscular fatigue and exhaustion. A tired worker is not only at risk of a musculoskeletal disorder but is also more likely to become involved in an accident.
A specialist in workplace ergonomics is qualified to advise employers regarding possible countermeasures. These might include reducing the need for manual lifting and carrying by providing workers with carts and dollies for handling heavy items. Where manual handling is unavoidable, employees need to be taught safe and efficient lifting techniques.
The working environment is often designed purely with a given task in mind and without consideration for those whose job it is to perform it. As a result, workers often find it necessary to bend, stretch, lean, or adopt some equally awkward posture incompatible with acceptable workplace ergonomic practices. Repeatedly working vulnerable joints, such as the knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders, beyond the mid-range of their capabilities exposes employees to a heightened risk of MSDs.
In this case, the control measures should focus on improvements to the functional layout and replacing any tools that might cause postural stress. In addition, regular breaks will allow employees the opportunity to recover before resuming these tasks.
Highly Repetitive Tasks
Many jobs require a worker to perform the same action repeatedly, often for prolonged periods. Typists were among the first to capture the attention of workplace ergonomics specialists, who correlated the occupation with an increased risk of the repetitive strain injury known as carpal tunnel syndrome. On the factory floor, any task with a cycle time of 30 seconds or less is considered to be highly repetitive and a potential contributory factor in the development of musculoskeletal disorders.
It is possible to significantly reduce the risk of MSD due to task repetitions by adequately addressing any postural and excessive force requirements, together with training in the proper work techniques and regular recovery breaks. Generally, a workplace ergonomics advisor would also recommend job rotation as a further precaution to eliminate the risks inherent in performing the same task for prolonged periods.
Need Professional Help?
Industrial hygiene specialists are trained to identify, evaluate, and offer advice on countering hazards to the health and safety of employees whilst at work. IOH Solutions is accredited and registered with SANAS and the Department of Labour to perform industrial hygiene inspections. Companies in Gauteng and the Eastern and Western Cape provinces with concerns about workplace ergonomics can be assured of absolute professionalism when retaining IOH Solutions.