What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is a broad term involving how humans interact with their work environment and its elements. This usually refers to how they move or position their body in their work environment in various work conditions. The manner in which you handle various activities in your workspace and how your workspace mandates you to act significantly affects the quality and productivity of your work.
Poor ergonomics in a workplace can affect workers’ health and reduce their efficiency in whatever job they are involved in. Ergonomics is one of the factors in the workplace that reduces injuries and accidents: however, it is hardly considered in some workplaces.
Some safety and health managers or quality managers underestimate ergonomics because the aftereffects of poor ergonomics are usually not as fatal or dangerous as the usual work accidents like falling from high places or getting injured while using sharp industrial equipment.
However, the ergonomic hazard results in a workplace are as detrimental to work quality, efficiency, and productivity as other work hazards. The ultimate reason for installing an ergonomics policy in a workplace is to combat musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs include carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back pain, muscle strains, ligament tear, etc…
In most workplaces, workers are demanded to move or position their body awkwardly or improperly, repetitively, every day. Suppose measures aren’t taken to ensure health safety is involved in every work activity and environment. In that case, workers could face hazards from various work activities like pulling and pushing heavy objects, lifting heavy items, repetitive bending, crouching, etc. Constant occurrence of some of these activities can negatively affect body strength and agility, thereby affecting work input.
So, what is the goal of ergonomics? It’s pretty straightforward! Ergonomics policy aims to lessen work stress and fatigue, improve the well-being and efficiency of workers, and promote long-term health. The principles of ergonomics are usually applied to four basic work scenarios, which are:
- Objects used while working
- Processes used to work
- Spaces where work is done
- Worker’s motion while working
Ergonomics safety ensures that the products, methods, and environment a worker uses are appropriate to fit the worker’s job requirements and personal capabilities.
In this article, you will learn:
A Brief History on Ergonomics
The word “ergonomics” was coined from the Greek words’ ergon’ and ‘nomos’ which mean labor and natural laws, respectively. The initial concept of ergonomics can very be traced back to the early Roman, Greek, and Egyptian dynasties. When various man-made devices, and equipment like wheels, pulleys, etc., were being built, the idea of efficiency and effectiveness of work in relation to the environment was already rising. Back in the era of ancient Egypt, laborers created these devices to minimize workload and reduce strenuous activities while working. This was the initial start of ergonomics, and it only continued to evolve.
The kinds of health problems caused by working were already a complaint during ancient Egypt, Greek, and Roman periods. After Wojciech Jastrzebowski coined the term ‘ergonomics’ in 1857, the principle and influence of ergonomics became more prevalent. The 18th century was when the clarification between health safety and labor was demanded. The relationship between working conditions and physiology was first studied from an occupational health and safety perspective by an Italian physician named Bernardo Ramazzini.
It was until the beginning of the 20th century that the concept of ergonomics in workplace safety finally progressed with the Introduction of preventive measures, methods, and approaches. In 1919, a Polish scientist named Józefa Joteyko published “The Science of Labor and Its Organization”. This book further explored the concept of measuring occupational fatigue and scientific management of labor. Now that the world has advanced technologically, ergonomics research has expanded. Perhaps the most noteworthy development of ergonomics was in human-computer interaction, but now, the ergonomics policies have even reached activities in domestic residences.
How To Improve Ergonomics in Workplace
There’s a wide range of activities that help improve ergonomics in the workplace. These activities support better body postures and work processes while considering the type of work done, workers’ stamina, the work environment, and the equipment with which workers work.
To improve ergonomics in the workplace, you’ll have to engage in practices that support good ergonomics. It might be related to how to properly sit at a desk or carry certain items at work. Nevertheless, they are measures that will prove supportive of worker safety if consistently practiced. Below are various ways to improve ergonomics in workplaces.
Always Practice Good Body Positioning
Every activity performed in any workplace will involve the use of one or many parts of the body, so how you position your body while performing various tasks matters a lot. Poor body postures and positioning can make you feel fatigued while working, even if you’ve had enough sleep.
When parts of the body are strained due to wrong positioning, it naturally slows down your agility and activeness while working. Adhere to the following tips to maintain good body positioning while at work:
- Avoid maintaining one body posture for a long time because prolonged body posture can cause strains, resulting in a tired body.
- All the joints in your body must be in the neutral position. Avoid engaging in tasks that twists or stretches your muscles and ligament above the least possible extent.
- Jobs that can be done in the same space as you should be kept close to your body. If the task you’re to engage in is too far from you, the arms will be outstretched, causing strain.
- Avoid using one hand to carry loads or objects, except it’s exceptionally light for one hand to carry. Using one hand to carry loads will subject the body to mechanical.
- If you’re working with a desk, chair, and monitor, ensure you are seated with your back and head upright. Ensure your back (from your upper back to lower back) is completely against the chair without any space in between.
- Get a standard ergonomic chair that will be comfortable for your body (arm, head, back, and leg). It’s advisable to go for a chair with adjustable height, armrest, seat pan depth settings, and lumbar support.
- If your job involves a lot of lifting, always lift with your knees and never lift with your back muscles. Also, ensure that you practice proper lifting techniques.
- Don’t crane your head forward- you should be properly rested directly above the base of your neck.
- Daw in your chair whenever you sit and ensure your forearms are fully rested on the desk to avoid strain.
Take Regular Breaks
Our bodies are not machines- as much as we can work for so many hours, we need to rest and take breaks once in a while. Taking breaks while working has some positive effects on your mental fortitude, body, and environment. While working, you can decide to set a rest time for refilling your energy with water or energy drinks, stretching your body, and walking around to improve good blood flow.
When you take breaks, it can also build up your mental health. Working under pressure can sometimes cause anxiety and stress on the brain, resulting in poor assimilation and execution of tasks. Taking breaks would help relieve your mental stress at the workplace, making the continuation of work smooth and comfortable.
Get Proper Equipment & Handle Them Appropriately
Do not settle for low-standard equipment that won’t help you streamline tasks or make your work process efficient. For instance, request a headset from your manager instead of settling for an old-school telephone receiver, which you’ll usually jam between your neck, ear, and shoulder.
In addition, position your equipment correctly so it will be easy for you to use and safely handle them. If you’re working in a chemical plant, for example, wearing your robe, gloves, and goggles appropriately are one step to an ergonomically decent workspace.
If you’re a desk worker with a monitor facing you, ensure the monitor is not set above eye level; if not, you’d be straining your eyes to look at the screen every time. Also, endeavor to make all equipment you intend to use is within your reach. Read instructions on how to use any equipment you’re not familiar with. For more insurance, it’s safe to have experienced personnel at your side if you encounter problems while handling or dealing with equipment.
Provide Proper Lighting
Your workspace or work environment should be well-lit, even if you’re using bulbs or natural lighting. Improper lighting is a significant shortcoming of workplace hazards. When the workplace isn’t properly lit, it can affect workers’ productivity or quality of work. It can also result in headaches, eye strain, and accidents. As a quality manager who cares about productivity and quality of work, check all the lights in your work environment to confirm if they’re working and provide lamps for desk workers if necessary.
Layout & Design
Your work environment plays a large role in ensuring your safety. The way your workspace layout is planned and the way it is designed greatly affects how easy it is for you as an employee to practice other ergonomic measures. First, your workspace has to be spacious enough to allow adequate ventilation instead of a cramped workspace. Then the placement of each piece of furniture and component of your workplace must be set so that it doesn’t allow workers to get in each other’s way.
Employee Training & Awareness
Employee training is an important factor that will help improve workplace ergonomics, not just being trained in their tasks but also in implementing proper ergonomics while at work. Once there’s a collective understanding of what to do to improve health, safety, and efficiency among employees, workplace ergonomics will surely thrive.
What Are The Benefits of Ergonomics?
Proper ergonomics assessment in organizations causes several positive impacts. All of these are important things that every workplace wants. The benefits of proper ergonomics in a workplace are:
- Increases productivity: Consistent practice of good ergonomics will affect how productive workers are in a firm, industry, or plant. When all the steps have been taken to reduce the stress and risks of accidents that workers face, they’ll be able to work well for longer hours, resulting in more productivity.
- Enhances workplace safety: One of the most cogent reasons for good ergonomics is to support and improve workers’ safety while performing any task in their workplace. Ergonomics looks into every little action that compromises workplace safety.
- Improves product quality: When proper ergonomics have been employed to reduce stress levels and reduce every health risk, the chance of achieving quality products will rise.
- Increases morale: As good ergonomics work to make workplaces more comfortable and safe for workers, it increases their morale to work diligently and effectively.
- Improves employee health: Proper ergonomics practice reduces every element that directly or indirectly impacts employees’ health negatively. As long as consistent and proper ergonomics spans in a workplace, workers will continue experiencing better mental health.
How To Prevent Ergonomic Hazards
Some processes or methods already in place at your workplace could cause an ergonomic hazard. The only way to tend to this matter is to spot and prevent them. Take a look at some procedures on how to avoid ergonomic hazards from occurring.
In a workstation
- Suggest a redesign or new layout for your workstation to end awkward postures and issues concerning space and ventilation.
- Also, make provisions for adjustable equipment to allow workers to maintain normal body positions while maneuvering.
- Create ergonomics programs to support the longevity of proper ergonomics in homes and offices.
While handling and moving items
- If you’re transporting items manually at your workplace, be knowledgeable about your body limits to avoid overexerting yourself.
- All loads to be carried should be labeled with their respective weights.
- Avoid twisting and turning of your spine while carrying items.
- Depending on the weight of a heavy object, two or more people should be assigned to the task.
- Make use of shoulder pads if you’re going to be carrying loads on your shoulder.
- In industries, carts should be provided to eliminate lifting.
- Life loads slowly, and carefully.
- Containers should be designed with handles to allow easy carrying.
- Avoid repetitive bending on abnormal stretching to retrieve items. Always store an item at waist or chest level areas to easily reach them without stress.
- Use PPE (personal protective equipment) as an ergonomics risk assessment measure.
- Make use of checklists whenever you need to handle equipment you’re just getting familiar with.
- Tasks should be rotated among workers to prevent repetitive actions.
- Reduce workload by increasing the number of staff.
- There should be regular employee break.
- Train workers on how to handle talks effectively and on ergonomics procedures and measures.
- Working schedule should be properly optimized to reduce excessive overtime.
What Is The Importance of Ergonomics In Workplace Safety?
The Importance of ergonomics in workplace safety can’t not be overemphasized. If you think about the root cause of most workplace accidents, it has a lot to do with how workers move or interact with work equipment.
As we highlighted at the beginning of this article, ergonomics involves how a person moves and interacts with his work environment. So without careful interaction and proper body motion, employees could face circumstances threatening their mental health or even cause fatal accidents.
Imagine a worker who sits at a desk for 9 hours every day, not maintaining the right posture or not standing up to stretch his body. That would be bad for their health and body. They could face serious body pains and muscle strains that can affect the state of their mind.
Suppose an industry worker has the same bad attribute. In that case, they could feel so mentally derailed and can mistakenly place a piece of dangerous machinery in the wrong setting, which can result in fatal accidents. However, if awareness of ergonomics has been conducted, the chances of that happening will be less.
Ergonomics not only supports prioritizing the safety of employees and workspaces but also provides room for workplaces to identify various areas that could endanger their lives. For this reason, health and safety officers should emphasize the importance of ergonomics and ensure its policy doesn’t fade.