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Major Ergonomic Risk Factors to Consider

31 August 2023

Keeping employees safe and healthy is necessary for any organization to thrive. In fact, not only is it important for reducing the costs associated with workplace injuries and the opportunity cost of lost time, but making an effort towards injury prevention also helps with ensuring that employees feel safe.

When employees see that you are invested in their safety, they are much more likely to accept the responsibility for making an effort on their end, and the result is that the likelihood of injury and other such problems is reduced.

However, to make an effort towards injury prevention, you need to be aware of what the risks really are to begin with. There are a number of major ergonomic risk factors to consider when designing your workplace wellness and safety program. Based on these risk factors, you'd be better able to take steps towards prevention as well.

Major Risk Factors to Consider in Workplace Ergonomics

The formation of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace is largely a result of the balance between the soft tissue in any part of your body being fatigued, and how fast you can recover from it.

Improper circulation is often a major contributor towards this problem, which is why many risk factors are those associated with how much of your blood supply is disrupted. Let's take a look at them.

Forceful Exertions

Forceful exertions are one of the major problems that give rise to injury. There are many tasks in the workplace that require you to exert force. Whether this is in a warehouse where you have to push heavy carts around, or in an office space where you are carrying heavy piles of documents, putting force into anything increases the amount of effort your muscles put in.

This increases the amount of pressure being put on the muscles themselves, as well as the ligaments and tendons around them. When put under too much pressure, these can get fatigued.

Again, because MSDs are about how fast your soft tissue is able to recover, if you don't give these tissues enough time to recover, your employees are at a greater risk of developing an MSD. That's why jobs which require consistent amounts of force become a risk factor.

Preventing the Problem

The good news is that there are ways to protect against this. Using mechanical assistance, such as through powered equipment, proper workstations and specific systems that can reduce the amount of pressure placed on the muscles, you can protect employees from the fatigue that comes with it.

Having a good amount of process controls can also help. For example, instead of making employees carrying objects, you can suggest they slide them instead, or use carts that can do the carrying. Making adjustments in the way the same task is done to minimize the level of force being exerted can help prevent MSDs from developing.

Of course, some force will still be required, so employees should be taught the proper body mechanics and trained on the correct techniques to exert force so they don't end up straining a part of the body that cannot handle it.

Task Repetition

Plenty of tasks in the workplace are repetitive by nature, and are controlled by time due to production targets. For example, assembly line workers have specific targets for how much of a product needs to be completed within a day, while office workers may have weekly deadlines on reports and other deliverables.

In fact, many tasks in the workplace are repetitive, and when combined with other risk factors, can contribute to MSD. For example, in the office space, typing on the keyboard or using your mouse is a repetitive task and can result in wrist injuries due to the motions.

Jobs are considered to be repetitive if the cycle time is a maximum of 30 seconds. While there isn't a lot you can do to remove repetitive tasks from the workday, you can incorporate methods to control the problem.

Preventing the Problem

Engineering controls, for example, will eliminate the excessive force and fix your posture, so you can reduce the amount of fatigue your soft tissue face in doing repetitive tasks. Having good work practice controls in place will also help, since it allows workers to do these tasks safely, with a lower level of risk than they would hold otherwise.

Workers should also be provided with careful and adequate training around their own safety and how to protect themselves.

Job rotation may also help in situations where the repetitive task in question is transferable. One way to reduce the risk that repetitive tasks is to minimize how often they need to be repeated. Job rotation allows for this by letting employees rest while their colleagues take over the job, and then return to it later. This way, everyone’s health is prioritized and nobody has to spend prolonged periods of time performing the same task.

Another very important way to minimize the problem is by introducing stretch breaks. Since MSDs are attributed to the inadequate amount of time between the tissue becoming fatigued and the recovery period, providing stretch breaks helps to bridge this gap. By introducing and implementing stretch breaks, employees get to rest the tissue that is fatigued and thus improve their circulation, which helps the tissue recover faster. As such, MSDs can then be avoided.

Sustained or Repetitive Awkward Postures

When your posture is awkward or unnatural, it puts an excessive amount of force on your joints and causes an overload of tension on the muscles and tendons around the joint itself.

The joints in your body are most efficient when they are operating within the mid-range motion, and the risk of developing an MSD gets greater when the joint is stretched beyond this range. While this is possible a few times without any harm, when the joints are worked outside the midrange at a repetitive pace or for longer periods of time, the chance of an MSD goes up.

That is why carpal tunnel syndrome is so common in office workers – because the joint of the wrist is worked beyond its midrange, which causes the median nerve to get compressed and create problems.

Preventing the Problem

Work practice controls should be incorporated into the employee’s routine to make sure that postures are kept as natural as possible. Workers should understand that their safety is important and that these controls are in place to protect them.

This way, they will also be encouraged to use their body properly and watch their posture carefully. Training may also be required for workers to understand what is safe for them and what isn't.

Job rotation may also help in such cases because it can minimize how often an employee needs to sustain an awkward posture and for how long. While this can help, it is much better to teach employees how to reduce the need for awkward posture and the right way to hold their bodies.

This is especially true in situations where skillset determines whether job rotation can be possible or not, and even truer in office settings where job rotation will not make a difference since the posture is the same for everyone anyway.

Stretch breaks are also very helpful, since it allows the muscles in the body to rest and improves circulation so any fatigue caused by holding such a posture can be healed. However, stretch breaks should be kept frequently – for example, a five-minute break per half an hour – for them to be effective.

The best way to minimize the risk placed by awkward postures is to provide ergonomic tools that can allow workers to get their tasks done while also maintaining an optimal position. For office workers, an ergonomic chair is practically an essential when it comes to office equipment.

FlexiSpot's BS2 Ergonomic Office Chair, for example, can help with the problem of posture. The back frame of this chair is a combination of soft plastic and hard plastic, which helps adjust the back of the chair depending on the user's weight. This allows the user to hold themselves in a position where their back is straight, and they are not tilted away or towards from the computer either. This allows them to type properly without injuring their arms, wrist or neck.

The chair also has the option for height adjustment so it can meet the needs of various users. The chair can also automatically adjust based on height and weight, which is very convenient for users. The chair itself is made with breathable mesh material which allows for air flow and keeps you comfortable for long hours.

The chair also has an ergonomic design, with lumbar support to keep your back in the right position, as well as arm rests that you can place your elbows on so those joints don't get strained. The headrest allows you to rest the weight of your head so you don't injure your neck over the time you spend working.