Overlooking the Importance of Workplace Ergonomics Could Have Serious Consequences
Repetitive tasks requiring heavy lifting or stretching frequently lead to musculoskeletal disorders. Attention to workplace ergonomics can prevent these. In practice, these conditions are not only a threat to workers who engage in strenuous physical activities. Even a supposedly sedentary office worker may risk developing postural and other debilitating problems while merely seated at a desk.
Until relatively recently, health and safety regulations and the industrial hygiene specialists who assist companies in complying with them have focussed mainly on threats from physical, chemical and biological hazards. However, it is now clear that factors such as ease of operation, tasks requiring excessive strain and even seating arrangements can also seriously impact the health of employees. Failure to recognise and mitigate these potential threats could leave workers exhausted and distracted, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries.
Some Common Hazards Revealed by Workplace Ergonomics Surveys and Their Solutions
The following are just a few of the ergonomic factors that can pose a threat to employees’ health:
- Badly-designed Workstations: An uncomfortable chair or one that is not adjustable, a worksurface that is too high or too low and requires a worker to adopt an awkward posture will eventually take its toll. Installing furniture that can be adjusted to an individual’s needs will eliminate this risk
- Vibrations: If regularly exposed for long periods, machinery or tools that subject the user to intense vibrations can lead to discomfort, pain or even a physical injury. Some gloves can absorb these harmful vibrations, and regular maintenance or equipment replacement can also be helpful.
- Lighting Conditions: Areas that are poorly lit or subject to glare are a common cause of eye strain and headaches. While these may not pose a severe health threat, affected workers tend to be less productive and are likely to become less attentive, increasing the risk of accidents to themselves and co-workers. Adjustable, high-quality lighting will ensure adequate illumination where it’s most needed and reduce glare. Allowing workers to take regular breaks to rest their eyes will also help.
- Tasks Requiring Excessive Force: Workers whose jobs involve pushing or pulling heavy objects unaided or who are constantly required to stretch, bend, or lift are among those most at risk of musculoskeletal disorders, such as herniated discs, rotator cuff injuries and tendonitis. Training in safer, more efficient techniques and equipment to limit the need for exertion provides the solution.
- Noise: Most factory floors and industrial spaces tend to be noisy. But, if workers are repeatedly exposed to excessively-loud noise for long periods, their hearing can be permanently impaired. A single eight-hour exposure, the length of a typical shift, to sound levels of 85 decibels will cause measurable permanent hearing loss, worsening with each subsequent exposure. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common cause of deafness and the most frequent source of industrial compensation claims. Combining noise reduction measures like machine enclosures and sound-absorbent barriers with suitable hearing protection will minimise the risk of NIHL.
Solving Workplace Ergonomics Problems
Identifying and mitigating ergonomic hazards are tasks for a certified professional. IOH Solutions provides industrial hygiene services to a range of South African companies. Your concerns are our concerns, so don’t hesitate to contact us for expert assistance with workplace ergonomics and other health and safety issues.Contact Us for Workplace Ergonomics Solutions