Ergonomic Expert: 10 High-ROI Must-dos for Every Workplace

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Little things mean a lot, such as systematically reducing ergonomic risk factors to prevent costly MSDs (Muscular Skeletal Disorders). These are conditions involving muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage and spinal disks that develop gradually instead of from a single event. With a third of workers’ compensation costs (plus even larger indirect costs) attributed to MSDs, this represents an opportunity for significant savings.

You wouldn’t deliberately put these items on your shopping list:

Carpal Tunnel Release ($15,000 – $20,000)
Rotator Cuff Repair ($50,000 – $100,000)
Low Back Surgery ($100,000 – $200,000)

And yet, by overlooking ergonomics, that’s what employers are doing. From reducing workers’ compensation costs to improving productivity, developing a strong workplace ergonomic process pays off.

Some environments are worse than others. One employer with a total injury incident rate of 28 in 100 employees decided to take action. Fifteen months of consultation and training brought the rate down to 7 in 100, with a six-figure cost reduction. Prior to introducing proactive medical management and injury prevention strategies, 80% of employees had complained of fatigue and discomfort and were seen by company medical staff or outside providers. Through the new process, it was down to 20%.

Beyond injury

The company’s experience was typical in this sense: long before workers’ compensation costs shot up, productivity and quality had already been affected. Frustrated, fatigued, aching workers weren’t doing their best work.

The intervention produced dramatic results. With less exertion, fewer motions and better heights and reaches, workstations became more efficient. Quality was improved. Employees were more engaged.

Serious problems, simple solutions

Ergonomic problems are usually caused by a design mismatch (the person and the work enviroment), technique mismatch (where the person is moving incorrectly) or a combination of the two. Fortunately, the main factors affecting posture and ergonomics are not difficult to change. Employers and individual employees can prevent the primary causes of MSD at no cost.

1. Identify the warning signs
of back pain caused by poor ergonomics and posture. Back pain may be the result of a workstation design mismatch and/or an employee technique mismatch.

2. Keep the body in alignment
When standing, distribute body weight evenly to the front, back, and sides of the feet. While sitting in an office chair, take advantage of the chair’s features. Sit up straight and align the ears, shoulders and hips in one vertical line.

3. Get up and move
As muscles fatigue, slouching, slumping and other poor postures become more likely. This in turn puts extra pressure on the neck and back. In order to maintain a relaxed yet supported posture, change positions frequently. Take a break from sitting every half hour for two minutes in order to stretch, stand or walk.

4. Use posture-friendly props
Use ergonomic office chairs when sitting. Footrests, portable lumbar back supports or even a towel or small pillow can be used while sitting in an office chair, on soft furniture and while driving.

5. Increase awareness in everyday settings
Becoming aware of posture and ergonomics at work, at home, and at play is a vital step towards instilling good posture and ergonomic techniques.

6. Use exercise to help prevent injury
Regular exercise such as walking, swimming, or bicycling will help the body stay aerobically conditioned, while specific strengthening exercises will help core muscles stay strong. The benefits of exercise promote good posture and prevent injury.

7. Wear supportive footwear when standing for long periods
Propping a leg up on a foot rest or placing a rubber mat on the floor can improve comfort.

8. Remember good posture and ergonomics when in motion
Simply walking, lifting, holding a telephone, and typing are all moving activities that require attention to ergonomics and posture. The greatest risk factor that exists in all work environments is excessive horizontal reaching. The key is to keep your work close!

9. Take the time to create ergonomic workspaces
It does require a small investment of time to personalize the workspace, home, and car, but the payoff will be well worth it to reduce a work related injury.

10. Avoid overprotecting posture
There’s a natural tendency to limit movements to avoid provoking increased pain. However, unless there is a fracture or other serious problem, the structures in the spine are designed for movement and any limitation in motion over a long period of time creates more pain. I always encourage employees I work with that on the days you hurt worse, you need to move more!

Brian Langenhorst provides ergonomic consultation and training for employers. To learn more about injury prevention strategies, medical management and workers’ compensation cost reduction, call 608-392–6182.