Safety Matters: Ergonomics Make Sense for Your Health and Your Bottom Line

Sprains and strains are the most expensive injuries


This is not as huge a responsibility for a supervisor as it may seem. Often all that is required is repositioning equipment, and remembering that taking the time to stop and plan ahead before the work begins can make the easier and prevent injuries.

Three ergonomic fallacies
The first ergonomic fallacy is that your aging work force is most at risk. In fact, older workers know their limitations and work much more safely than younger people. Additionally, we won’t ever have a work force of only 25-year-old gorillas — the work force is always aging.

The second fallacy is that personal protective equipment, physical conditioning, and training will prevent ergonomic injuries. Ergonomics does not depend on the worker. Even with the best of intentions, fatigue, distraction, stress, or environmental conditions can prevent the worker from doing what they’ve been trained to do. Ergonomics looks at the problems and solutions in the whole work practice including tools, equipment, materials, and the employee’s movements and prevents injuries for a whole work group, not just the individual.

The third fallacy is that designing out ergonomic risk factors is expensive. It’s doing nothing that can be a very expensive risk — sometimes intervention costs nothing. Large companies may have their own ergonomic team or may send their safety team to an ergonomist for half a day of training pertaining to their industry. If you do hire an ergonomist, make sure it is someone who knows your industry. In my experience, the best ergonomic solutions are based on the expertise of the workers. They know their bodies and can best identify what activities take the most tolls and the most effort.

The ergonomics mindset
Ergonomics often gets put at the bottom of the pile of concerns for business owners. In fact, when the cost of doing nothing is considered, ergonomics is the most important safety measure one can undertake, short of preventing fatalities. Business owners should make an ergonomics program part of the business’s annual strategic plan. Ask yourself, what did we do for ergonomic improvements this year? Once you get into the mindset that ergonomics will make a difference, you’ll never look back. 

General Lifting Guidelines

  • Before lifting an object, the employee shall inspect it for sharp edges, slivers, protruding nails, grease, or other things that might cause injury. Gloves shall be worn as required.
  • Employees shall not lift any object without estimating its size, weight, and balance of the load and judging their ability to lift it safely and to maintain control with a secure grip and secure footing.
  • Assistance or mechanical aids shall be obtained if the object is too large, too heavy, or too awkward for the employee to handle.
  • Employees shall clear the path before carrying an object.
  • When two employees will carry an object, they shall briefly tailgate and agree upon the route, method, and readiness to begin.
  • Employees should not try to change the position of the load or adjust their grip while carrying it. The employee(s) should rest the object on something or even drop it in order to prevent injury.
  • Risk of injury can be reduced if employees try to avoid twisting by moving the feet rather than twisting the torso and keeping the load as close to the body as possible at near-waist level. 

Seeley has a Certification in Professional Ergonomics (CPE), is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH), and is secretary of the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Ergonomics Committee. She is employed as a consultant at Ergonomic Solutions LLC of Wales, WI. For more information send email to ergo@wi.rr.com, call (262) 370-2417, or visit www.ergonomics-solutions.com.

Anticipating health and safety issues and taking action to prevent them is a long-term and profitable investment for companies. For more information on industrial hygiene and methods for promoting health and safety in the workplace, as well as a listing of industrial hygiene consultants, please visit the American Industrial Hygiene Association website at www.aiha.org.

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