Reduce accidents and ill health and increase productivity by fitting the task to the worker.
You may have heard of the term ‘ergonomics’. This is sometimes referred to as ‘human factors’. Not everyone really understands what ergonomics is, what it does, or how it affects people. This leaflet will help to answer these questions and to explain how understanding ergonomics can improve health and safety in your workplace.
It is aimed at anyone who has a duty to maintain and improve health and safety and who wants to gain insight into ergonomics. It gives some examples of ergonomics problems and simple, effective advice on what can be done to solve them.
What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics is a science concerned with the ‘fit’ between people and their work. It puts people first, taking account of their capabilities and limitations. Ergonomics aims to make sure that tasks, equipment, information and the environment suit each worker.
To assess the fit between a person and their work, ergonomists have to consider many aspects. These include:
Ergonomists consider all the physical aspects of a person, such as:
Ergonomists also consider the psychological aspects of a person, such as:
By assessing these aspects of people, their jobs, equipment, and working
environment and the interaction between them, ergonomists are able to design
safe, effective and productive work systems.
How can ergonomics improve health and safety?
Applying ergonomics to the workplace:
Ergonomics can reduce the likelihood of an accident. For example, in the design of control panels, consider:
Ergonomics can also reduce the potential for ill health at work, such as aches and pains of the wrists, shoulders and back. Consider the layout of controls and equipment; these should be positioned in relation to how they are used. Those used most often should be placed where they are easy to reach without the need for stooping, stretching or hunching.
Failure to observe ergonomic principles may have serious repercussions, not only for individuals, but whole organizations. Many well-known accidents might have been prevented if ergonomics had been considered in designing the jobs people did and the systems within which they worked.
What kind of workplace problems can ergonomics solve?
Ergonomics is typically known for solving physical problems. For example, ensuring that work surfaces are high enough to allow adequate clearance for a worker’s legs. However, ergonomics also deals with psychological and social aspects of the person and their work. For example, a workload that is too high or too low, unclear tasks, time pressures, inadequate training, and poor social support can all have negative effects on the person and the work they do.
The following examples highlight some ‘typical’ ergonomic problems found in the workplace:
Display screen equipment
These problems may result in mistakes and poor productivity, stress, eye strain, headaches and other aches or pains.
These problems may result in physical injuries such as low back pain or injury to the arms, hands, or fingers. The problems may also contribute to the risk of slips, trips, and falls.
Managing the working day
How do I identify ergonomic problems?
There are many ways in which ergonomic problems can be identified. These can range from general observations and checklists to quantitative risk assessment tools.
Ideally, several approaches should be used:
- Is the person in a comfortable position?
- Does the person experience discomfort, including aches, pain, fatigue, or stress?
- Is the equipment appropriate, easy to use and well maintained?
- Is the person satisfied with their working arrangements?
- Are there frequent errors?
- Are there signs of poor or inadequate equipment design, such as plasters on workers’ fingers or ‘home-made’ protective pads made of tissue or foam?
What can I do if I think I have identified an ergonomic problem?
- provide height-adjustable chairs so individual operators can work at their preferred work height;
- remove obstacles from under desks to create sufficient leg room;
- arrange items stored on shelving so those used most frequently and those that are the heaviest are between waist and shoulder height;
- raise platforms to help operators reach badly located controls;
- change shift work patterns; and
- introduce job rotation between different tasks to reduce physical and mental fatigue.
An understanding of ergonomics in your workplace can improve your daily work routine. It is possible to eliminate aches, pains, and stresses at work and improve job satisfaction. Ergonomic solutions can be simple and straightforward to make – even small changes such as altering the height of a chair can make a considerable difference.
Case Study 1
Eddie works on an engine assembly line. In his job he has to use a hand held impact wrench to fit a temporary adapter to an engine. The assembly line makes up to 2400 engines a day and it takes approximately 3 seconds to tighten each adapter.
As well as the risk from using a vibrating tool, Eddie often had to adopt poor postures to reach some parts of the engine. He had to repeatedly stretch out his arm and constrain his posture while tightening the adapter. After some time on the job, Eddie found he was leaving work with shoulder and neck pain. One tea break, Eddie’s line manager saw him rubbing his neck and shoulder and recognized the pain could be due to the type of work Eddie was doing. The line manager told the company health and safety
representative about what she had seen.
The company responded by making the following modifications:
As a result of the modifications there was:
Case study 2
Dominique is a receptionist in a large financial company. Much of her work involves using a telephone to take messages and redirect calls to appropriate departments. Dominique regularly uses a computer (display screen equipment or DSE) to make appointments, record messages and respond to e-mails.
After working at the front desk for eight months, Dominique found she was leaving work with an aching shoulder and neck, and with sore eyes and a headache. Dominique asked her manager for a risk assessment to identify possible problems with her working arrangements and to determine where improvements could be made.
The risk assessment identified the following areas for improvement:
During the summer Dominique’s computer screen was difficult to read because of glare and reflections from light through the window. This meant she struggled to avoid making mistakes and would repeatedly adjust her posture to view the screen.
The assessment led to the introduction of simple, cost-effective measures to
reduce the risks:
An ergonomics program can be a great tool to reduce physical and emotional stress in the workplace. By addressing the environment in which we work can reduce physical strain and allow workers to focus more on the task at hand. Ergonomic Evolution is your source that can improve your workers health while reducing stress thus providing happy and more productive employees. Contact us today to find out how.