Preventing Ergonomic Problems: A $5.00 Wrist Pad Prevents A $500K Lawsuit
While small business owners want to provide a safe workplace, sometimes potential hazards aren’t readily apparent. Any job in which workers perform repetitive motions, or work in areas that aren’t designed or furnished properly, can lead to ergonomic injuries, such as sore wrists or necks, eyestrain or headaches.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), even seemingly safe occupations, like professional services delivery, are susceptible to ergonomic injuries. The BLS reports that ergonomic injuries account for 29 percent of all workplace injuries or illnesses requiring time away from work.
That’s not only bad for company team members, it’s just plain bad for business.
Reducing the frequency and severity of ergonomic injuries provides financial and productivity benefits for small business owners. Whether your employees routinely lift or move heavy objects, or spend most of their days working at a computer, there are ways to reduce the potential risks of ergonomic injuries.
A good way for business owners to start an effective ergonomics program is to ask employees, either informally or through a survey, if they’ve experienced common, painful symptoms such as neck strain, sore wrists, headaches or other common aches. Accident reports also provide empirical data on problems that must be addressed.
It doesn’t matter if your employees spend most of their days behind desks, in the warehouse or on the production line, encouraging short breaks is a low-cost means to reduce ergonomic injuries.
With technology playing a major role in many professions, paying attention to ergonomic workstation design is more important than ever.
If an employee works in the same location, the height of his or her desk, keyboard and computer monitor is important. For instance, most desks are 28 to 30 inches high the ideal height for writing, but too high for eight hours a day at the keyboard.
Since replacing desks is expensive, adding a pullout keyboard tray under desks is a more practical and affordable alternative. Employees adjust the trays so their wrists and hands rest comfortably, with the keyboard angled slightly forward. This position helps reduce strain on the wrists and fingers.
Below are other workplace factors to consider when ergonomic injury is under review:
- Computer monitors should be positioned so that workers look at them without having to raise or lower their heads. Holding the head in one place for extended periods results in neck strain a common ergonomic injury.
- Pay attention to the lighting in the office and at individual workstations. Make sure lights don’t throw glare on a monitor and cause eyestrain and fatigue.
- Invest in ergonomic office chairs to improve workplace comfort and productivity. Employees should be able to adjust the height of their chairs and armrests to create the best fit for each individual.
- Telephone headsets are more comfortable than holding a traditional handset for extended periods. Headsets reduce neck strain.
Mobile workers, who use laptop computers, should also be taught safe keyboard practices. Although most are proud of their ability to work anywhere, these employees should be comfortable on the job, wherever the job is. A coffee shop table, an airplane seatback tray or the front seat of a car aren’t designed for ergonomic laptop typing.
Safe Lifting: Lighten the Load
If an employee is more likely to lift heavy boxes than a computer mouse, proper training and equipment reduce the chance of ergonomic injury. Employees who lift or move heavy objects should understand proper lifting technique:
- Examine the load first. If it appears heavy or awkward, use a hand truck or dolly, or get help from another worker.
- Bend with the knees, not the back.
- Push up with the legs to take advantage of the body’s strongest muscles.
- Grip with the palms, when possible, to provide a stronger grip than lifting with fingers alone.
- Carry the load close to the body to reduce strain on arms, and to avoid twisting the back while carrying a heavy object.
- To lower an object, bend the knees to avoid stooping. Lift and lower with the legs, not with the back.
Your insurance carrier or the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) both offer safety information and other resources to help you and your employees understand effective ergonomic design, best employee practices and workplace health and fitness.
A healthy staff is a happy staff and a happy staff is a productive staff, so prevent repetitive stress disorders and other workplace injuries to keep your employees safe.
It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for business.