Ergonomics Safety

Learn about the importance of ergonomics in the workplace, ergonomic hazard prevention, and ergonomic principles to improve quality of work and productivity.

Published 20 Sep 2021

Ergonomics and Safety: A Powerful Pairing

Ergonomics, as defined by the International Ergonomic Association, is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.

When the principles of ergonomics are applied in the context of workplace safety, the concept of ergonomic safety is born. Ergonomics safety ensures that the products, methods, and environment that a worker uses are appropriate to fit the worker’s job requirements and personal capabilities. 

How did Ergonomics Safety Develop?

The practice of ergonomics safety principles can be possibly traced back in the early Egyptian, Greek, and Roman dynasties, where findings have shown that tools and other manmade devices (e.g. pulleys, wheels) were created to minimize workload

Fast forward to the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, people began developing factory machinery with some design principles closer to how we practice modern ergonomics. In 1857, Wojciech Jastrzebowski, a Polish scholar, then coined the term ‘ergonomics’which comes from the Greek words ergon (work or labor) and nomos (natural laws) – in his publication. 

The modern principles of ergonomics safety became more prevalent during World War II as interest in logical human-machine interaction grew and military equipment, machinery, and weaponry became more complex. Human factors need to be taken into account to ensure that these advanced systems are to be operated safely. 

When World War II concluded, research on ergonomics and safety continued to expand as more and more technological advancements were introduced. Perhaps the most noteworthy development in modern ergonomics safety happened in the field of human-computer interaction, brought on by the explosion of computer usage in the workplace and, soon after, the home.

Why is Ergonomics Important in Workplace Safety?

Ergonomic disorders are the fastest-growing category of work-related illness. According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they account for 56-63 percent of illnesses reported to OSHA. Further, around two million work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) also occur yearly in the United States alone.

Many of these are caused by ergonomic work-related injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome alone, tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, muscle strains, and low back injuries due to risk factors like high task repetition, forceful exertions, and repetitive awkward postures. 

What are the Benefits of Ergonomics?

The implementation of ergonomics safety as part of the workplace safety program helps ensure that employees’ capabilities and physical limitations are matched with the right tools and working spaces to ensure comfortable and safe working conditions for them. The benefits of an ergonomics safety program can not only make an impact on the lives of employees, but it can also make a difference in the overall efficiency of the entire organization. Here are some of the most notable benefits of ergonomic safety in the workplace: 

  • Ergonomics Benefit #1: Helps reduce costs

    By systematically reducing ergonomic risk factors, you can prevent costly MSDs. With approximately $1 out of every $3 in workers’ compensation costs attributed to MSDs, this represents an opportunity for significant cost savings.

  • Ergonomics Benefit #2: Helps prevent other incidents and injuries

     Workers who experience discomfort on the job may find shortcuts or workarounds that could result in incidents and injuries such as slips, falls, and lacerations. Implementing an ergonomics program and encouraging workers to report ergonomic issues early helps prevent MSDs as well as other common workplace incidents.

  • Ergonomics Benefit #3: Improves overall productivity

    Healthy employees are your most valuable asset; creating and fostering the safety & health culture at your company will lead to improved productivity for your organization. Effective ergonomic safety programs can promote good posture at all times, less exertion, fewer motions, and better heights and reaches, thus helping employees to work more comfortably and efficiently in their workstations.

  • Ergonomics Benefit #4: Helps foster employee engagement and satisfaction

    Employees notice when the company is putting forth their best efforts to ensure their health and safety. It shows your company’s commitment to safety and health as a core value. If an employee does not experience fatigue and discomfort during their workday, it can reduce turnover, decrease absenteeism, improve morale, and increase employee involvement.

How to Spot and Correct Ergonomic Hazards 

Here are some general ergonomic safety tips to help prevent the most prevalent ergonomic hazards: 

Workstation improvements

  • Redesign workstations to eliminate awkward postures.
  • Provide adjustable equipment that can be used by workers to allow neutral postures.
  • Maintain good body posture.

When transporting and handling

  • Be knowledgeable about body limitations.
  • Provide carts for transporting materials to eliminate lifting.
  • Require all loads to be labeled with their weight.
  • When lifting, keep your back straight and lift with your legs.
  • Assign two or more staff to lift heavy objects depending on weight.
  • Lift slowly and carefully.
  • Don’t twist or turn your spine while carrying the load.
  • Use shoulder pads to cushion loads carried on the shoulder.
  • Use knee pads for kneeling tasks.
  • Store materials at waist height to minimize reaching.
  • Design containers with handles for easy gripping.

Staff scheduling and training

  • Rotate workers among different tasks to avoid repetitive motions.
  • Improve the work schedule to minimize excessive overtime that causes fatigue.
  • Increase staff to reduce individual workloads.
  • Provide sufficient employee breaks.
  • Adequate recovery time can reduce fatigue.
  • Provide workers with training on ergonomics policies and procedures.

General housekeeping

  • Follow good housekeeping practices.
  • Keep floors free of obstruction.
  • Use tools in good condition that fits the hand.
  • Properly maintain power tools to reduce exposure to vibration.
  • Use gloves to protect against vibration and rough surfaces.
  • Always practice proper machine handling.

How to Improve Ergonomics: 10 Principles

Follow these 10 ergonomic principles to help reduce injuries and improve productivity tasks in the workplace.

joints neutral position

 

1. Joints must be in a neutral position

In the neutral position the muscles and ligaments, which span the joints, are stretched to the least possible extent

 

 

 

work close to body

2. Keep work close to the body

If the work is too far from the body, the arms will be outstretched and the trunk bent over forwards

 

 

 

bending forward

3. Avoid bending forward

The further the trunk of the upper body is bent forward, the harder it is for the muscles and ligaments of the back to maintain the upper body in balance.

 

 

 

twisted trunk

 

4. A twisted trunk strains the back

Twisted postures of the trunk cause undesirable stress to the spine.

 

 

 

alternate posture

5. Alternate posture as well as movements

No posture or movement should be maintained for a long period of time. Prolonged postures and repetitive movements are tiring.

 

 

 

excessive reaches

 

6. Avoid excessive reaches

It is necessary to limit the extent of forward and sideways reaches to avoid having to bend over or twist the trunk

 

 

above shoulder level

 

7. Avoid carrying out tasks above shoulder level

The hands and elbows should be well below shoulder level when carrying out a task

 

 

 

weight load lifted

 

8. Limit the weight of a load that is lifted

Be guided on weight limits

 

 

 

carrying one hand

 

9. Avoid carrying loads with one hand

When only one hand is used to carry a load, the body is subject to mechanical

 

 

 

mechanical aids

 

10. Use mechanical aids

Many lifting accessories are available to help lift and move loads

 

Improve Health and Safety with Ergonomics Assessments

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, muscle strains, and low back injuries are the most common ergonomic injuries in the workplace. Performing ergonomic risk assessments will help identify possible causes of these injuries that will help to plan immediate actions to mitigate ergonomic risks.

iAuditor by SafetyCulture is an inspection software that provides visibility and insights to help raise ergonomic safety across the organization. With iAuditor, a competent person can record ergonomic issues found in the workplace and immediately send reports using a mobile device anytime, anywhere. Ergonomic assessments are automatically stored in the cloud which makes it easier to access, review, and share within the organization.

SafetyCulture Content Specialist

Jona Tarlengco

Jona Tarlengco is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2018. She usually writes about safety and quality topics, contributing to the creation of well-researched articles. Her 5-year experience in one of the world’s leading business news organisations helps enrich the quality of the information in her work.

Jona Tarlengco is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2018. She usually writes about safety and quality topics, contributing to the creation of well-researched articles. Her 5-year experience in one of the world’s leading business news organisations helps enrich the quality of the information in her work.