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Ergonomic Risk Factors to Stay Aware Of

21 April 2023

Ergonomics is a rapidly growing field. As people become more aware of the dangers of working in an unsuitable environment, ergonomics also becomes more widely practiced in workplaces and more and more research is carried out in an effort to make the work environment as ergonomically friendly as possible.

Because ergonomics look for solutions to make sure the worker and the workplace are continuing in harmony, it needs you to work smarter and find where the risks lie so you can eliminate or reduce them.

However, it's important to remember that ergonomic risks aren't limited to the work environment and that there are a number of risk factors related to every aspect of the workplace.

Let's look at some ergonomic risk factors to stay aware of.



Ergonomic Risk Factors in Workers

If you ask around, you'd find that a number of workers would complain of pain while doing their work. Working to the point of straining yourself can cause productivity dips and affect your work, but if you continue doing so when you're already in pain, you can end up with lifelong injuries.

The risk factors of any workplace start with the workers themselves. These are also different for everyone because everyone's ability to put up with and respond to the demands of a task is different from others.

While stereotyping isn't correct, it is true that some factors put specific people at a greater risk than others. However, this is only discernible after asking individual workers themselves, rather than making assumptions.

Age

The risk of ergonomic injuries definitely increases as age increases. However, this doesn't necessarily mean old age - in fact, back pain and nerve compression problems are very common in people as young as their 20s and 30s.

The risk of ergonomic injury is lowest in children and young adults who haven't entered the workforce yet, but as you grow older and enter working age, these problems are more common and are also relatively consistent.

In fact, musculoskeletal disorders are most prevalent in middle-aged and old aged people.

It's understandable that as the body weakens, the likelihood of developing injuries grows. However, again, stereotyping doesn't help. While age does bring a greater risk, those who make an extra effort to maintain good posture and remain fit will be at a lower risk than others - sometimes even at lower risk than those younger than them!

Gender

There is a lot of discussion about whether gender bias exists, and the same can be said about ergonomics. While research does suggest that women are much more susceptible to ergonomic injuries than men, it is worth noting that most studies are unable to conclude whether the difference is a result of the physiological differences between men and women, or whether the difference in exposure is the problem.

Some studies concluded that the differences in height range and body stature (on average) are also one of the causes of women being more at risk for injury than men.

Physical Activity

The level of physical activity a person engages in may also contribute to the level of risk they are exposed to. Less physical exercise results in less stamina, flexibility, endurance, and all other aspects of fitness. Because stretches and exercise have a proven positive effect on the body - especially when suffering from MSDs, it's clear that engaging in such will also reduce the likelihood of developing them.

However, it also depends on what part of the body is being engaged - regular leg workouts may not help very much when it comes to shoulder pain, for example, though there will still be some positive impact.

Body Size & Stature

Most ergonomic solutions are designed for the average person - average height, average size, and average proportions. As a result, anyone who falls outside the standard deviation will suffer. For example, someone who is taller or shorter than the average person will have difficulty using the same furniture and equipment, and thus faces a greater risk.

Again, stereotyping doesn't do anyone any good. By stereotyping, you'd be making assumptions about people's capabilities based on superficial traits and as a result, may be turning away people who are capable of doing more than it appears, while also putting in danger those who may not be as capable as they seem to be at first glance.

Interviewing employees and understanding their requirements and capacity at an individual level is key to preventing ergonomic injuries.

On that end, workers also have the responsibility to make adjustments to their work and ask for help based on their needs, rather than pushing themselves to work just because they have to.



Ergonomic Risk Factors in Tasks

Besides the workers themselves, there are also some risk factors related to the task at hand.

Force

The amount of force required to complete a task can affect how much of an impact it has on the body. This sounds quite obvious, but it's surprising how many people disregard the implications of how much physical effort is needed in a task.

When workers are carrying out tasks that require a lot of force throughout the day, they're going to end up hurting themselves, especially if the work conditions are not appropriate for them to put that much effort into.

These kinds of jobs are usually found in construction work and such, where there is a lot of handling of heavy objects involved.

Vibrations

Vibrations can also make an impact. Exposure to a lot of vibration, whether that's in one spot or through the whole body, can cause problems with vascular insufficiency and neuropathy. This is also much more common in workers who deal with tools that cause vibrations.

Repetition

Repetitive tasks can also result in injury, though this is further broken down into a number of factors: the frequency of repetition, the speed at which you are working, the force required, and the muscle groups involved.

Repetitive tasks are common in pretty much every field of work and are also one of the major contributors to MSDs.

Duration

The duration of a task is also worth mentioning as a risk factor. The longer you spend on a single task, the higher the risk levels. This is because spending too much time on the same thing affects your productivity, your stress levels, your posture, and even how much you feel like you are accomplishing from your work.

With tasks that already hold the risk of repetition, longer durations become even more of a risk factor than they would be otherwise.



Ergonomic Risk Factors in the Environment

The task and the worker aside, sometimes the risk factors exist in the environment.

Lighting

Inappropriate lighting can make some tasks more difficult to carry out, and even increase the number of attempts made to complete them. If the task itself holds high-risk levels, it becomes a problem, but insufficient or too-bright lighting can also cause problems with eye strain and fatigue.

Equipment

The equipment you carry out a task in is also important. For example, a chair that doesn't provide ergonomic support can easily result in you developing back problems, shoulder pain, and even carpal tunnel syndrome, even if the task itself is not particularly risky.

Having a good chair that supports your back, arms, and head like Flexispot's Ergonomic Mesh Chair, and can keep your posture correct can keep a mundane task just that - mundane, without causing much trouble.

Sound

The sound levels of a workspace can also affect how well you're able to work there. When there's too much noise, your body becomes stressed, and you'll find that your muscles become a lot more tense than usual. As a result, the pain levels also rise.

Psychosocial

The psychosocial demands of the workplace also contribute towards the risk of a workplace. For example, how much control you have over the work you do, the social support you get from your coworkers, the psychological demands of your work, and even job satisfaction - all of these affect the risk of ergonomic injury.

It may seem strange to assume that psychological factors can affect your physical body, but it is true that the likelihood of MSDs increases the more mental stress is placed on an employee.

Of course, each of these things has to be looked at with regard to the person carrying out the task, and the task itself. Sometimes, the inherent risk of the task itself will go down depending on the risk factors of the worker, while other times it will go up for the same reason.

Similarly, the risk of the task can go up if the environmental conditions are not adequate and vice versa. When looking at ergonomic safety, each of these three things has to be given equal importance for any efforts made in the direction to be useful.