People Come in All Shapes – Workstations Should, Too

By Stacy Rose, Safety Services Operations Supervisor

By Stacy Rose, Safety Services Operations Supervisor

I feel obliged to start my first blog post with a confession: I’m not much of “word person.” Algorithms and chemical compounds have always made more sense to me than poetry and prose. So when it came time to choose a career path, I earned a master’s degree in safety engineering with a specialty in ergonomics from Texas A&M University.

Ergonomics is one of a handful of safety issues that touch every business, regardless of industry. I could talk all day in ergo jargon like hyperflexion and pronation, but I’d probably never get invited to contribute to this blog again. So, here’s the meat of the message.

People come in all shapes and sizes. We buy clothes, shoes, cars and beds to accommodate our unique bodies. Unfortunately, the place we spend the majority of our waking hours – our workplace – too often doesn’t fit our unique needs.

The result can be injuries to our muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage and spinal discs. In scientific circles, those injuries are called musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). To the average person, they’re those nagging aches and pains that often start small and get worse over time.

MSDs are cumulative, and it often takes many years for the first serious symptoms to appear. By the time they do, your employee may have done extensive damage.

Follow these tips to steer clear of MSDs and the costly claims that often accompany them.

Identify the risks

The risk factors associated with MSDs are common among most industries. They include repetitive movements, heavy lifting, bending, climbing, reaching, twisting, exposure to vibrations, and awkward body positions. Start by gathering some basic information:

  • Review your accident records, looking for injury trends among specific job tasks, departments and workstations.
  • Get employee input. After all, they know their workstations and job tasks better than anyone.
  • Conduct an ergonomic analysis of each job task. Watch employees work, and look for possible risk factors. Consider videotaping the process or taking photographs to create a visual record.

Educate early

Once you have identified the risks, teach employees how to avoid them before you let them start working. During their first day on the job:

  • Discuss symptoms of MSDs, such as decreased range of motion, swelling, redness and cramping.
  • Review occupational risk factors and methods of identifying and controlling hazards.
  • Demonstrate the safest way to grip a tool, lift a heavy load, use personal protective equipment and perform other job-specific tasks.

Leverage policies and procedures

A review of your policies and procedures may uncover opportunities to reduce the wear and tear on tired joints, muscles and tendons:

  • Provide designated rest periods to allow tired muscles to recover. New employees and employees who have been off the job for an extended period may need time to adapt and build their strength.
  • If possible, hire extra help to make up for increased production quotas and times when you are short-staffed.
  • Regularly rotate employees among different job tasks to reduce the strain on specific muscle groups.

Make workstations adjustable

A good ergonomic program accounts for employees’ physical differences by fitting the job to them.

Design workstations to allow employees to do their job from a variety of positions using safe postures. Every employee should be able to walk up to a workstation, make a few quick adjustments, and work comfortably and productively.

For example, an adjustable work surface allows employees to bring work to waist level, without bending. An additional light can reduce eye strain. An ergonomic keyboard can relieve strain on the wrists.

Encourage early reporting

Encourage your employees to tell their supervisors immediately if they experience symptoms of MSDs. The sooner employees get treatment, the sooner they can recover and get back on the job.

About the author

Stacy Rose has 15 years’ experience in occupational health and safety. She currently serves as safety services operations supervisor at Texas Mutual. Prior to assuming that role in 2014, Stacy spent 11 years helping Texas Mutual policyholders prevent workplace accidents and their associated costs. Stacy holds a master’s degree in safety engineering with a specialty in ergonomics from Texas A&M University.

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