Learn about the importance of ergonomics in the workplace, ergonomic hazard prevention, and ergonomic principles to improve quality of work and productivity.
Published 28 Apr 2023
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.
The practice of ergonomics safety principles can be possibly traced back to 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Employees notice when the company is putting forth its 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.
Here are some general ergonomic safety tips to help prevent the most prevalent ergonomic hazards:
Create Your Own Ergonomics Safety Checklist Eliminate manual tasks and streamline your operations.Get started for free
Eliminate manual tasks and streamline your operations.
Follow these 10 ergonomic principles to help reduce injuries and improve productivity tasks in the workplace.
In the neutral position the muscles and ligaments, which span the joints, are stretched to the least possible extent
If the work is too far from the body, the arms will be outstretched and the trunk bent over forwards
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 postures of the trunk cause undesirable stress to the spine.
No posture or movement should be maintained for a long period of time. Prolonged postures and repetitive movements are tiring.
It is necessary to limit the extent of forward and sideways reaches to avoid having to bend over or twist the trunk
The hands and elbows should be well below shoulder level when carrying out a task
Be guided on weight limits
When only one hand is used to carry a load, the body is subject to mechanical
Many lifting accessories are available to help lift and move loads
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.
SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) is an inspection software that provides visibility and insights to help raise ergonomic safety across the organization. With SafetyCulture, 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 also offers Training for proper ergonomic practices, assessments, and safety procedures, allowing you to manage all things ergonomics in one place. You can create your own training module to fit your needs or download a premade one and customize it as you see fit.
The three types or dimensions of ergonomics are physical ergonomics, cognitive ergonomics, and organizational ergonomics. Physical ergonomics focuses on the interactions between people and their work environment, while cognitive ergonomics deals with the mental processes involved in performing tasks, including designing systems that facilitate learning, decision-making, and problem-solving. Organizational ergonomics, meanwhile, aims to optimize organizational systems and processes to enhance overall efficiency and productivity.
There are five aspects of ergonomics that should be observed in workplace design to optimize productivity and prevent injuries: safety, comfort, ease of use, performance, and aesthetics. These elements work together to ensure that the workplace is designed with the user in mind, and can contribute to increased productivity for both the individual and the business.
Although there’s no specific requirement on its frequency, it is recommended that ergonomic assessments be conducted at least once a year or whenever there is a significant change in the work environment or the individual’s job tasks. Employers are also encouraged to promote employees reporting any discomfort they experience so that ergonomic assessments can be conducted promptly.
Ergonomic safety assessments can be conducted by trained professionals such as certified ergonomists, occupational health and safety specialists, physical therapists, or other professionals with expertise in ergonomics. Additionally, some employers may have designated personnel trained in ergonomics who can conduct assessments in-house.
SafetyCulture (iAuditor) is the world’s most powerful inspection app that can be used to record data, and capture and annotate photos while performing assessments in the workplace. Get started with these free customizable templates to ensure ergonomics is applied by employees when performing their jobs.
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.
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