Easy strategies for creating ergonomically aligned workstations.
You’ve probably seen someone—or maybe you have been the one — who pushes yourself through pain and discomfort because you are focused on getting a job done. But when employees are uncomfortable, or even worse, in pain, productivity and morale can suffer. Do you have employees who are experiencing pain and you’re not sure how to help? Are you confused by all the “ergonomic” products on the market? Read on to learn how to identify risk factors for employee injury and a find five of common-sense ways you can reduce the likelihood of injury. You will also learn how to set up work stations that are optimally adjusted to specific users.
Ergonomics is about fitting the job to fit the employee
Changing what you can to make the work more comfortable and safer creates less stress on the body resulting in fewer injuries. Adjusting jobs to fit people also goes a long way to create a culture where employees know they are valued. But where do you start? The term ergonomics is often used as a marketing tool and products labelled “ergonomic” may or may not be better for the specific application you are working to improve.
Don’t get stuck looking for a perfect solution. Good ergonomics is about identifying risk factors and reducing them. Sure, sometimes you can eliminate the exposure by, for example, implementing robotics. Most of the time, however, you can reduce exposures with simple, cost effective solutions.
Three big ergonomic risk factors
- Awkward body positions. Neutral postures are better than awkward static postures. You can frequently reduce ergonomic risk factors with simple changes in working positions. Stooping, reaching, and bending all increase the risk of ergonomic injury. Sometimes all it takes is to put the work on a table that is the correct height to eliminate extra movements.
- Repetitive motions. The more repetitions, the higher the risk of ergonomic injury. Limiting the time spent doing repetitive motions allows recovery time. Changing or rotating through different tasks encourages a variety of movements that can also reduce the risk.
- Heavy weights. The third type of ergo risk factors is weight or the force used. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, about 51 pounds is the maximum limit for lifting in ideal conditions. For repetitive lifting, much less weight is recommended—closer to 35 pounds depending on the conditions. If it is possible to reduce the weight, you can significantly lower the risk of injury. When that isn’t possible, use team lifting to better distribute loads.
5 ways to spot ergonomic risk factors
- Does the employee have to lean, bend over, or reach up high? Try raising or lowering the work surface. Store necessary materials closer to waist level.
- Does the employee push or pull weight? Use equipment such as hand trucks to reduce the force required. Look for equipment with wheels and good hand grips.
- Are materials handled multiple times? Streamline your processes to reduce the number of times materials are manipulated.
- Are employees forced into awkward positions when using their tools? Rearranging the workspace can help, as can using in-line tools with hand grips that allow for more neutral wrist postures.
- Is the load heavy? Require the use of lifting tools such as forklifts or cranes. Consider purchasing items in smaller quantities, and use hand trucks or carts.
Checklist: How to set up an ergonomic desk station
For employees who experience discomfort while working at a desk, focus on reducing awkward postures and static postures. Start at the feet and work up.
- Adjust the chair so that feet are flat on the ground, knees are the same height as hips, and thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Lumbar support should make contact with the small of the back.
- The user should be able to sit all the way back in the chair with an inch or two to spare at the back of the knee.
- Next, check if you’re the keyboard is in the right position. Hands, wrists, and forearms should be straight and roughly parallel with the floor. The keyboard should be flat or angled down away from the typist, never up.
- Is the keyboard placed directly in front of the monitor?
- Do the elbows rest at sides at a 90-degree angle?
- Is the mouse at the same level as and close to the keyboard?
- Wrist rests should be soft and allow for micro-breaks, but don’t overuse them.
- Is the monitor positioned to avoid an awkward posture?
- Is the monitor a comfortable distance away from the user, to best meet vision needs?
- Is the top 1/3 of the screen at eye level?
- If documents are used, are they at eye level?
- Is the phone located nearby and easy to reach?
- Are frequently-used items close to hand?
- Encourage employees to incorporate movement to avoid static postures. Stand frequently if it is comfortable to do so. Get up and take breaks.
Making small changes to improve awkward postures, reduce the frequency of repetitive motions, and minimize the weight of lifts all can reduce the risk of injury to your employees. You don’t have to have perfect ergonomics to improve your safety program. You don’t even have to spend a lot of money on special equipment. Remember: small changes can add up. And, if you would like an expert partner to in evaluating workstations and devising cost-effective solutions, give us a call.
Yours in success,
Chief Safety Consultant
Rebecca is the Chief Safety Consultant of Integrated Success HR Consulting & Coaching, LLC. She has extensive credentials and experience as an Environmental Health and Safety/Risk Management professional and leader across a variety of industries. Her background in for-profit, non-profit and governmental organizations, and as a former OSHA compliance officer, means Rebecca knows how to design cost-effective programs that really work. Rebecca’s passion is translating her vast experience into straight-forward programs for busy leaders.