Ergonomic hazards put your workers and your company at risk and can wreak havoc on your bottom line. The musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) that are the result of ergonomic hazards annually cost American companies $50 billion in direct costs and an additional $250 billion in indirect costs. They also account for almost 30% of all worker’s compensation costs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The physical and emotional cost of ergonomic hazards can haunt workers for the rest of their lives, which is why it's integral that any good employer be mindful of potential hazards.
You can avoid the injuries associated with these ergonomic hazards by being diligent and safety-focused. Here are 10 ergonomic hazards you should pay attention to in your workplace.
1. Repetitive Motions
Repetitive motion injuries are the most common type of injury in the workplace and are also costly. This ergonomic hazard is the result of a worker making the same motion, over and over again, for extended periods of time. It can occur in many industries and is involved in activities such as packing, assembling, typing, welding or even sweeping. Any action that is repeated over and over can put your workers at risk.
2. Poor Posture
Poor posture is another common ergonomic hazard in offices. However, it also affects workers in manufacturing or any industry who stand or sit for long periods. It is usually the result of poorly placed devices, such as controls placed just out of reach that might require a worker to lean forward or reach awkwardly in order to get to them. A poorly designed chair or stool that encourages slouching can also result in problematic posture.
3. Forceful Motions
This type of ergonomic hazard is defined as any activity where excessive effort is needed to complete tasks. It can include pulling, pounding, pushing, and lifting. These are the kind of exertions that can affect the tendons, joints and discs and can lead to irritation, inflammation and constriction of blood vessels or nerves. Forceful motion hazards can occur in any industry but are commonly found in manufacturing and construction.
4. Stationary Positions
Remaining in one position too long can restrict blood flow and cause fatigue and damage in muscles and joints. It is a common cause of leg, neck and back pain. The same is true of jobs that put workers in awkward positions, which can also stress the spine. Workers who have sedentary jobs should be mindful of the hazards that can come along with remaining stationary for extended periods of time.
5. Direct Pressure
Direct pressure, also referred to as contact stress, is the result of prolonged contact of the body with a hard or sharp surface or edge that inhibits nerve function and restricts blood flow. This could include contact with desk edges or unpadded, narrow tool handles. For example, a butcher using a knife could be at risk for this type of ergonomic hazard.
6. Excessive Vibration
The use of vibrating tools in manufacturing and construction, as well as other industries, is the most frequent cause of vibration-related hazards. The most recognizable of these tools is a jackhammer, but many less obvious vibrating tools can cause damage as well. This damage can lead to decreased blood flow, damaged nerves, and muscle fatigue.
7. Extreme Temperatures
Extreme hot or cold temperatures can be severe ergonomic hazards for your workers. Intense cold leads to hypothermia and frostbite, but even moderately cold temperatures can affect motor coordination and dexterity, causing workers to use excessive force to complete tasks. Extreme heat can lead to dangerous conditions such as heat stroke. Workers who complete their tasks outdoors are most at risk for temperature-related ergonomic hazards, but it can also be a problem for certain types of indoor workers.
8. Improper Lighting
Insufficient lighting in a warehouse, factory, office or other workspaces can lead to accidents and injuries. It can also strain the eyes, causing discomfort and headaches. Glare can affect a worker’s ability to see objects clearly and can lead to pain and possibly impaired vision. Improperly distributed light is also a problem for some workplaces, where the amount of light varies significantly from space to space, forcing workers to adjust their vision continually as they move through their workdays.
9. Frequent Lifting
Heavy lifting can cause muscle strain and is a frequent source of injuries to workers, but frequent lifting is also a problem. The object’s weight, distribution, shape, horizontal and vertical location relative to the body, all play a role in the seriousness of this hazard. The distance a worker must carry the object and their posture while lifting also have an impact. Back problems are the most common result of both heavy and frequent lifting, particularly if it is done incorrectly.
10. Excessive Noise
Exposure to excessive noise occurs in many industries, including construction, processing, manufacturing, mining and even in bars and clubs. Sudden excessive noises such as those caused by explosions can cause permanent hearing loss, but so can sustained or even intermittent noises. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), millions of American workers are exposed to excessive noise in their work environment.
Identifying Ergonomic Hazards
Professional consultants can audit and assess your workplace for ergonomic hazards, but it’s also a good idea to train managers, supervisors or foremen on what to look for. Depending on the workplace, it might even make sense to task your health and safety committee with identifying any possible ergonomic hazards your workers might be exposed to.
Addressing Ergonomic Hazards
Identification is an obvious first step in addressing ergonomic hazards. Once you know the risks, you can begin to address them. Many of the injuries caused by these ergonomic hazards are cumulative in nature, so early identification is critical.
There are many additional solutions to mitigating ergonomic hazards, including providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and work attire and designing workspaces that eliminate awkward positions. Robotics can also help by replacing some of the more repetitive and difficult actions performed by your workers. Modern tools can also mitigate or reduce excessive vibrations, noise, pressure or force. When these approaches are not an option, consider more frequent rest breaks, changes in position or duties and the institution of strict protocols for performing tasks.