We’ve been talking about the high cost of ignoring ergonomics in the workplace (see our Aug. 29 and Sept. 1 posts). Manual material handling tasks that are performed repeatedly or over long periods of time can lead to physical and mental fatigue and injury. So how do you tell if your workers are at risk from repetitive-stress injuries? The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends looking for the following risk factors:
- Repeated motions including frequent reaching, lifting or carrying
- Awkward postures such as bending, twisting or stretching to reach materials
- Static postures where the same position must be maintained for a long period of time
- Pressure points including handholds, footholds and any point where workers contact the load to grasp, push, pull or lean against a hard or sharp surface
- Forceful exertions such as carrying or lifting heavy loads
Over time, repeated exposure to any of these risk factors can cause fatigue, pain and eventual injury, particularly to the back, shoulders, hands and wrists. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels can be damaged by repetitive-stress injuries. Continuing to perform the same tasks with such musculoskeletal disorders can cause permanent physical damage.
Reducing the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, in your workplace must involve both engineering and administrative improvements.
Engineering improvements. Work spaces and task procedures may need to be reordered, modified or redesigned. Environmental conditions such as heat, cold, noise and lighting which can contribute to worker duress may need to be addressed. Ergonomically designed equipment or tools may need to be purchased. For example, motorized carts can be used to carry loads and even move heavy machinery and equipment without physical strain. Scissors lifts can be used to elevate loads without physical effort. Adjustable cargo beds can be used to position loads at optimal lift heights for manual loading and unloading. Powered equipment can eliminate the push/pull forces that can lead to serious back and shoulder injuries.
Administrative improvements. Workers come in all shapes and sizes. Repetitive-stress injuries often occur when workers are forced to use equipment or perform tasks that are not tailored to their individual physique. They must engage in injury-risking bending, stretching and pushing to do their job. Ergonomics strives to mold the task or equipment to the worker to avoid such overexertion. Administrative initiatives can also reduce worker exposure to risk factors. For example, repetitive-stress injury risk can be reduced by rotating workers through jobs that use different muscle groups, alternating heavy and light tasks, providing task variety, adjusting work schedules and pace, and providing rest breaks.
For help in finding ergonomic solutions to your material handling needs, visit the DJ Products website.