Ergonomics – protecting employees from musculoskeletal disorders

You’ve probably heard of ergonomics – likely seen the word in marketing content for desks, office chairs and other paraphernalia – but do you know what it really means, and how paying attention can keep your employees healthy and your costs down?

What is ergonomics?

According to Merriam-Webster, ergonomics is:

1: an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.

In other words, it’s making sure that an employee’s workspace is designed to reduce both acute and chronic injury. For example: a desk chair that is the correct height, using a monitor stand, providing anti-fatigue mats at the cash, reducing the amount of time using vibrating equipment, keeping temperatures comfortable and consistent. 

What are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)?

MSDs (also known as MSIs: musculoskeletal injuries) are injuries such as sprains, twists, strains and inflammation of joints, tendons, ligaments, and nerves, etc.

Common MSDs include:

  • Tendonitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Repetitive Strain Injury
  • Arthritis

What can cause an MSD?

MSDs can be the result of a single incident – i.e., a fall - or they can build up over time as with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Common causes of MSDs are:

  • Lifting
  • Turning
  • Vibrations
  • Awkward posture
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Repetitive movements

How can I prevent employees from experiencing an MSD?

Education and training are key, but before that you need to have a good understanding of what your employees’ pain points are – literally! Take a walk through the workplace and identify any MSD hazards, speak to your employees about any concerns they have, and look at previous incident reports to discern problem areas. 

Once you know where the hazards are, take steps to mitigate them. This could look like:

  • Anti-fatigue mats for employees who stand for long periods.
  • Height adjustable desks.
  • Limiting the amount of time an employee remains standing or seated or using a vibrating tool.
  • Training employees in the safe way to lift loads.
  • Encouraging employees to do simple muscle-relaxing exercises throughout the day (check out our workplace stretches and tension release posters).
  • Job/task rotation to prevent injuries caused by repetition.

Before making permanent changes, trial them to evaluate their effectiveness. Be prepared to make adjustments as you find the right fit for your workplace and your employees. Continue monitoring to ensure the changes are still helping and also that they haven’t unintentionally created new hazards.

How does this save me money?

Some of the most common workers’ compensation claims are due to soft tissue injuries, accounting for millions of dollars annually in claims costs. The longer an employee is off, and the more employees you have making a claim, the greater the impact to your workers’ compensation premium. 

There is also the cost associated with reduced productivity when an employee is on a modified duty/work hours plan, or is out of the workplace on leave due to the injury. Working to keep your employees safe helps your bottom line as well as morale. 

For more information on ergonomics and musculoskeletal disorders, please visit the MSD Prevention website  and CCOHS.

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