An Essential Guide to Workplace Ergonomics
An old children’s radio show opened with the words, “Are you sitting comfortably?”. Today, comfortable seating is just one essential of workplace ergonomics.
Since the publication of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in 1993, much has been done to protect South Africa’s employees from potential harm due to various physical, chemical or biological hazards in the workplace. By contrast, the act included no provision for ensuring that employees were comfortable whilst performing their assigned tasks.
It was only 25 years later, in December 2019, that the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) published the Ergonomics Regulations. This addition to the 1993 Act extended the existing responsibilities of employers for their staff’s well-being.
What Is Workplace Ergonomics?
Ergonomics can be best defined as a scientific discipline concerned with the interaction of humans with the elements of a system. In the workplace, this could relate to how an employee performs a routine task like lifting a heavy object or even typing a report on a PC.
The body is a remarkable machine, but it has limits. Strenuous repetitive tasks can lead to fatigue and injuries unless performed in a manner that reduces the strain involved. The physical, chemical and biological hazards mentioned earlier can cause conditions like fractures, lung disease and gastroenteritis, respectively. Similarly, poor workplace ergonomics can lead to various musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
An MSD is an injury to or disorder of the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, nerves, cartilage or spinal discs.
Such conditions are considered work-related if the working environment or task was a significant contributory factor, or the symptoms are worsened or prolonged due to work conditions. The following are typical examples:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: This condition is caused by compression of the median nerve in the wrist, leading to numbness, tingling, weakness and possible atrophy of the hand and fingers. It requires surgery for relief. The condition affects between 4 and 5% of people worldwide.
- Back injury and pain: Back problems are among the top ten reasons people consult a doctor. While common in strenuous jobs like mining and construction, poor workplace ergonomics is responsible for these conditions in many other industries.
- Osteoarthritis: Workers in certain occupations are more prone to this painful, debilitating condition, which commonly affects the knees, hips or both. Osteoarthritis may result from lifting or carrying heavy loads, exposure to vibration, or lengthy periods of operating in uncomfortable positions.
On the bright side, the incidence of ailments due to uncomfortable and stressful working conditions can be vastly reduced by introducing more appropriate operating procedures and equipment. The necessary changes can best be identified with the help of an accredited workplace ergonomics specialist from IOH Solutions.
Furthermore, by caring for your employee’s comfort, you will reduce fatigue levels, improve productivity, reduce the annual cost of sick pay, and, perhaps, hiring temporary staff while also promoting greater staff loyalty.
Optimising Your Workplace Ergonomics
Our ergonomics experts at IOH Solutions are certified by the Department of Labour and fully conversant with the Ergonomics Regulations of 2019. If you wish to be sure your workers are not at risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, why not contact us to arrange an ergonomics risk assessment of your premises?