Ergo ergonomics Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

One size fits all? In the past, this was the thinking that applied to the design of tools, workspaces and the furniture in most workplaces. As a result, employers suffered from employee complaints, absenteeism and high turnover rates. That was until the rise of ergonomics in the workplace.

Workplaces traditionally have been designed to move products or support machines efficiently. Since people have always seemed so adaptable, how they fit into the workplace received less attention. But, because of the increasing number of injuries caused by repetitive motion and stress, excessive force and awkward postures, ergonomics has become a critical factor in workplace safety.

“Ergonomics is the application of engineering and scientific principles to design an environment that accommodates the employee in relationship to the workplace, product, equipment, tools, workspace and organization of the work,” says Nancy Pokorny, vice president of business development at the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE).

Smart Business spoke to Pokorny about ergonomics and how it can affect you, your employees and your business.

What does ergonomics do?

Ergonomics allows employers to fit tasks to the worker rather than forcing the worker to adapt to the work environment. By allowing the worker to work more comfortably without excess physical or mental stress, productivity, work quality, job satisfaction and attitude can all improve, ultimately providing a positive impact on the bottom line.

What can ergonomics prevent?

In any job, certain elements or tasks are potentially stressful and, over time, they result in a cumulative trauma disorder (CTD). Repetitive motions, awkward postures, forceful exertions, mechanical pressure on soft tissues, inadequate rest or adverse environmental conditions can all contribute to the development of a CTD.

What are examples of a CTD?

Carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, trigger finger, muscle strains, sciatica, rotator cuff tendonitis, carpet layer’s knee and lower back pain are all examples of a CTD. Most back injuries are a result of cumulative trauma rather than a sudden, acute incident. Repetitive motion disorders and overuse syndromes are other terms that apply to this classification of injuries.

According to Safety Controls Technology, a nationally respected engineering, environmental and occupational safety and health services firm, in a recent year more than 281,000 work-related injuries in the United States were caused by repetition disorders — more than double the number reported four years earlier. The most common types of injuries are CTDs.

What types of exposures are associated with ergonomic injures?

The following exposures have been associated with ergonomic injuries:

? Typing for extended periods without a rest break

? Using force when typing or gripping the pointing device

? Working with awkward neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist or back postures.

? Remaining in the same position for long periods of time.

? Continuous pressure on a body part.

What are the symptoms of an ergonomic injury?

The following may be symptoms of an ergonomic injury:

? Reoccurring or continuous pain and/or discomfort

? Redness and swelling

? Limited range of motion

? Numbness or tingling sensation

? Decreasing handgrip strength

What are the benefits of ergonomics?

An ergonomics program can provide several benefits to your organization, including:

? Reduced CTDs

? Reduced severity of CTDs that do occur

? Reduced costs of workers’ compensation, medical bills and lost workdays

? Increased productivity and quality

? Improved morale

? Improved work conditions

How can I get an ergonomic assessment?

Contact the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation Division of Safety and Hygiene [(800) 644-6292]. Your paid BWC premiums are all it takes to have an ergono-mist come to perform an assessment at your workplace at no additional cost to you. The ergonomist can assess all job descriptions at your workplace or those where you have the most concern. You will receive a full assessment of the job requirements of your employees, along with suggestions on how to best improve the workplace to reduce the possibility of injury.

A more efficient workplace can be a mere phone call away.

NANCY POKORNY is the vice president of business development at the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), one of Ohio’s largest small business support organizations. Reach her at npokorny@cose.org or (216) 592-2309. Composed of more than 17,000 members, COSE strives to help small businesses grow and maintain their independence. COSE has a long history of fighting for the rights of all small business owners, whether it’s through group purchasing programs for health care powered by Medical Mutual of Ohio, workers’ compensation or energy, advocating for specific changes in legislation or regulation, or providing a forum and resource for small businesses to connect with and learn from one another.