Tackling Ergonomic Hazards | Ergonomics

The first step in setting up an ergonomics program is to determine if musculoskeletal disorders are present. Recognizing the signs that a problem exists is the first step. Some signs are obvious while others are more subtle. Look for signs such as the following:

  • OSHA Form 200 logs or workers' compensation claims show cases of MSDs such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, tenosynovitis, epicondylitis, and low back pain. Sometimes these records contain nonspecific entries like "hand pain," which, while not a specific diagnosis, may be an indicator of a significant health problem if severe or persistent.

  • Certain jobs or work conditions cause worker complaints of undue strain, localized fatigue, discomfort, or pain that does not go away after overnight rest.

  • Workers visiting the clinic make frequent references to physical aches and pains related to certain types of work assignments.

  • Job tasks involve activities such as repetitive and forceful exertions; frequent, heavy, or overhead lifts; awkward work positions; or use of vibrating equipment.

Other signals that alert employers to potential problems include the following:

  • Trade publications, employers' insurance communications, and references in popular literature indicating risks of MSDs connected with job operations in the employer's business.

  • Cases of MSDs found among competitors or in similar businesses.

  • Proposals for increasing line speed, retooling, or modifying jobs to increase individual worker output and overall productivity.

Clues that indicate ergonomic problems may also suggest the scope of the effort required to correct them. Signs that implicate multiple jobs in various departments and involve a large percent of the workforce may indicate the need for a full-scale, company-wide program. Signs that the suspected problems are confined to isolated tasks and relatively few workers may suggest starting with a more limited, job-focused activity.

The financial benefits of comprehensive safety and health programs have been well documented. Workplaces safe from hazardous conditions have lower costs due to decreased lost time, absenteeism, and worker compensation premiums. Ergonomics programs have been shown to be cost effective for similar reasons. In addition, ergonomic improvements may result in increased productivity and higher product quality.

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