Ergonomics 101

Cumulative trauma disorders or musculoskeletal disorders account for 34 percent of lost-workday injuries and illnesses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and more than $16 billion in workers’ compensation costs each year.

Both office and manufacturing environments contribute to these costs, but implementing an ergonomics program can reduce the risk of worker injuries.

The initial step in developing an ergonomics program is to quantify the need for and extent of the program. Begin by reviewing the OSHA 300 log and workers’ compensation claims for musculoskeletal injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, low back pain, shoulder strains and similar injuries.

Determine the percentage of incidents related to ergonomic factors and total the annual associated workers’ compensation costs. These numbers help indicate the need for an ergonomics program and the opportunity to reduce workers’ compensation costs.

After reviewing records, identify job tasks that have the following risk factors: awkward work positions such as extended reaching or overhead work; forceful exertions including lifting, pushing and pulling; and repetitive motions, contact stresses or use of vibrating equipment.

Obvious risk factors can be detected during a walkthrough, then do a job analysis of tasks that appear to have significant risk factors. There are checklists available to assist with scoring job features against risk factors. Prioritize jobs based on severity of exposure to risk and develop an action plan to minimize or eliminate them.

If the work environment presents a high risk for ergonomic problems or workers’ compensation costs are considerable, an extensive program may be necessary. If the risk appears to be low to moderate, it may be appropriate to begin with a basic ergonomic program that initially includes only an employee education program and an employee suggestion program.

Employees should be educated on ergonomic risk factors, the physical symptoms that may be associated with poor ergonomics, the options available to minimize the risk factors and the elements of the employee suggestion program. Encourage employees to participate in identifying solutions and to report signs of physical discomfort early in an effort to identify ergonomics risks and prevent long-term injuries.

The employee suggestion program should include a formalized response procedure including timeframes for responding and a committee for reviewing outcomes. Once a suggestion is made or a symptom is reported, conduct a hazard assessment of the job task. This is similar to other safety assessments that are routinely completed, but focuses primarily on the ergonomic risk factors. Once the risk factors are identified, the means of reducing them should be prioritized.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, effective and successful ergonomic “fits” assure high productivity, avoid illness and injury risks and increase satisfaction among the work force. Although there is no OSHA standard, ergonomics should be a part of a proactive health and safety program

For more information, contact your safety consultant or insurance provider, or visit and How to reach: Dianne Grote Adams is president of Safex Inc. Reach her at (614) 890-0800 or [email protected]