What is Ergonomics?

OSHA defines Ergonomics as "The science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population." Although the scope of ergonomics is very broad, this introduction will focus on work-related factors that may pose a risk of injury and suggestions to alleviate them. Some examples of common risk factors are jobs requiring repetitive or prolonged exertion of the hands; heavy lifting; and sustaining awkward postures.

What are the costs and benefits of Ergonomics?

Ergonomics can be beneficial to both workers and employers. It can help by:

  1. Improving productivity, efficiency, employee job satisfaction and morale
  2. Decreasing lost work days, employee turnover, and workers' compensation claims and costs
  3. Promoting a pro-active approach to avoiding on-the-job injuries

There are specially trained consultants who can evaluate a specific employee or an entire worksite and make recommendations where needed. But in a majority of cases, employee feedback is most helpful in determining if workplace modifications are needed. Employers can encourage a sense of partnership in preventing injuries by simply asking what workers need to better do their jobs. Most common workplace modifications like adjustable chairs, back support belts, and anti-fatigue mats are fairly inexpensive, especially when compared to the cost of an injured worker. In fact, some ergonomic measures cost nothing at all, like good posture and stretching.

OSHA Ergonomic Standards and Enforcement

Over the past years, OSHA has developed ergonomic guidelines for specific industries where injuries are common (the nursing home industry, retail grocery stores, shipyards, etc.). All other occupations without specific guidelines are covered under the General Duty Clause. It details the employer's obligation to provide a work place "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm". If an employer violates these terms, OSHA may prosecute. However, the General Duty Clause also states that workers are required to "comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders ...which are applicable to his own actions".

Helpful Hints

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Make sure employees are using best practices for all work related tasks.

  • Good posture is always important - if sitting, sit upright with feet flat on the floor; if standing, keep shoulders in line with your feet and your knees slightly bent
  • If a certain position or task causes excessive bending or reaching, try to find a better way to accomplish it
  • Stretch frequently, especially if any muscle pain, tingling or numbness occurs
  • If lifting heavy objects is required, use a back support, and bend from the knees
  • Use your whole hand to grasp objects, not just your thumb and index finger
  • Keep wrists in a neutral position as much as possible
  • If standing for long periods is required, anti-fatigue mats can reduce foot and leg pain