Workplace Ergonomics | Benefits | MSDs


Workplace Ergonomics Benefits Both Workers and Employers


While most employers understand how working conditions can lead to illnesses and injuries, many are far less aware of the importance of workplace ergonomics. The latter term is a meld of two Greek words; ergon, meaning ‘work’ and nomos, which translates as ‘laws’ or ‘principles’. In the context of this article, ergonomics refers to the various measures necessary to ensure that employees are protected from any persistent discomfort that, over time, might harm their health while at work.


From a practical standpoint, ensuring their workers are adequately protected requires employers to consider the capabilities and limitations of their workers. They need to optimise physical factors like equipment and processes to enhance their safety and comfort whilst minimising the risk of pain and discomfort.


The Consequences of Poor Workplace Ergonomics

Workplace Ergonomics

Like pneumoconiosis and mesothelioma, conditions caused by inadequate protection from airborne contaminants, the consequences of neglecting the ergonomic aspects of an employee’s tasks can also take a long time to manifest. Nevertheless, they can be equally severe.


In addition to excessive fatigue, which can leave workers more susceptible to accidents and injury, the greatest threats to employees’ health when ignoring the importance of ergonomics at work are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These include neck strain, back pain, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. In turn, these conditions can also have negative consequences for employers:


  • Reduced productivity: Nobody can perform at their best when constantly distracted by pain or discomfort. Affected workers experience headaches, fatigue and diminished cognitive function, making them less efficient and productive.


  • Increased absenteeism: Eventually, most MSDs lead to absence, often prolonged, and the added cost of sick pay or hiring temporary staff, where necessary.


  • Compensation claims: Where an MSD can be shown to have arisen due to poor workplace ergonomics, the affected personnel could qualify for workers’ compensation amounting to 75% of their regular income for a period defined by the Department of Labour.


  • Legal implications: Besides the liability for compensation payments, failure to comply with health and safety regulations defined by South Africa’s Occupational Health and Safety Act carries the added risk of fines, penalties and legal consequences.


Optimising Workplace Ergonomics


Conditions vary according to industry and task. However, although each case needs to be assessed individually by an accredited occupational hygienist, the following measures will cover most requirements:


  • Adjustable workstations: Desks and workbenches should be adjustable to allow workers to alternate between sitting and standing to avoid health issues arising from prolonged sitting.


  • Ergonomic seating: Adjustable height, lumbar support, and armrests help promote good posture, reducing the risk of backache.


  • Ergonomic equipment: Office workers can be protected from repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome when supplied with an ergonomic keyboard and mouse.


  • Education and training: Supplying the solutions is not enough. Workers must be trained in their use and taught practical activities like lifting techniques and how to adjust their workstations.


  • Regular surveys: These are not once-off solutions. Repeat surveys and employee feedback can expose areas that may still need improvement.


Professional Help With Workplace Ergonomics


IOH Solutions is registered and approved by the Department of Employment and Labour to provide workplace inspections and occupational hygiene services. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more details of our services in Gauteng and the Eastern and Western Cape provinces.