Understanding the Impact of Applied Workplace Ergonomics on Productivity
Employees should not be overexerted or experience prolonged discomfort when performing their jobs. Workplace ergonomics helps optimise tasks and conditions. It has taken centuries for employers to recognise the link between working conditions and productivity and decades more to appreciate that the benefits of a healthy and happy workforce far outweigh the cost of the changes required to achieve this.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993 marked the dawn of a new deal for most employees in South Africa and the birth of a new profession – the occupational hygienist.
Since introduced, the Act has undergone several amendments, extending the areas of concern and how to address them. Nevertheless, the primary focus of professional interventions by occupational hygienists was confined to preventing accidents and illnesses resulting from exposure to physical, chemical or biological hazards present in the workplace. Only more recently have workers’ comfort, stress and fatigue levels, the results of poor ergonomics in the workplace, come under scrutiny.
The Basics of Workplace Ergonomics
In practice, one could think of this as a subdiscipline of industrial hygiene and an extension of the hunt for physical hazards. However, rather than checking for slippery floors, ionising radiation, excessive ambient noise levels or extremes of temperature, the job is to identify tasks, tools and any other factors that might result in an employee experiencing extreme discomfort, stress, fatigue, an increased risk of errors and accidents, and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Unlike the consequences of the three primary hazards mentioned earlier, the effects of ergonomic risks are not confined to industrial premises or jobs that require a lot of physical exertion. Even a comparatively sedentary office worker can develop a life-changing injury when working for an employer with little knowledge of the need to ensure their workers’ comfort and the potential dangers of failing to do so.
Some Examples of Workplace Ergonomics In Action
Just like dealing with the primary hazards, the process requires a workplace inspection. After a discussion with managers and workers, the inspector will watch individuals perform their routine tasks while checking for signs that might be a source of avoidable stress and strain. The following are typical examples of inadequate ergonomics in the workplace.
- Excessive Stretching or Bending:
Even at home, we occasionally stretch or bend to retrieve an item from a shelf or cupboard. Imagine doing that every couple of minutes for eight hours daily. It’s the perfect recipe for MSDs like a frozen shoulder or herniated lumbar disc. A minor modification to the workplace layout could eliminate physical strain and improve performance.
- Prolonged Use of Hand-Held Power Tools:
The vibrations from hand-held tools increase the pressure on the upper arm needed to perform the task and the likelihood of musculoskeletal disorder. Bench-mounted tools or regular breaks are the solution.
- Maladjusted Workstations:
A work surface that is too high or a seat that is too low can quickly lead to eyestrain, backache or a sore neck. Both should be adjustable to meet the needs of workers of different heights and physiques.
These are just three ways poor workplace ergonomics can harm health and productivity. IOH Solutions is certified to conduct workplace inspections. Contact us for help protecting your staff and becoming more productive.