Ergonomic injuries in the workplace are a common occurrence. Often, ergonomic injuries are referred to as musculoskeletal disorders or injuries. They take place when a person goes injured due to exposure to risk factors that contribute to ergonomic injuries. Often, the tasks being performed that cause these injuries are not inherently harmful, so long as the task is done only in the short term. It is when the task is done repeatedly over a long period that an injury occurs.
1. What Is Ergonomic Injury?
Some of the common risk factors for ergonomic injuries in the workplace include prolonged use of or pressure on a specific body part, extended exposure to extreme temperatures, repetitive movements, or remaining in the same awkward position for long periods.
Ergonomic injuries in the workplace or musculoskeletal disorders are considered problematic because they cause lost time from work. This can be detrimental to both the worker and the workplace. The worker suffers from the injury itself and potentially lost wages. The workplace suffers because its productivity is negatively impacted.
Ergonomic issues in the workplace can exist for every type of business. People who work in a factory can be subject to constant loud sounds, repetitive movements, or standing in awkward positions. Construction workers can be subject to working in extreme temperatures. Office workers can be subjected to repetitive typing movements. No matter the industry, ergonomic injuries can take place.
With careful planning and execution, businesses can reduce the impact of ergonomic issues in the workplace.
1.1. Causes of Ergonomic Injury
There are many causes of ergonomic injuries. However, to suffer from an ergonomic injury in the workplace, you only need to be exposed to one risk factor. Ergonomic injuries are not always straightforward. They are unlike a cut or bruise, where the result of the impact shows up automatically. Instead, they may slowly build over time.
You may feel completely familiar and comfortable doing a movement or using a specific body part. This feeling of normalcy can last for years. All of a sudden, one day, you start to feel discomfort. At the end of the day, the pain doesn't go away. Instead, it continues to get worse each day. This pain you find yourself in was probably built over a long time. The discomfort may be the result of a musculoskeletal disorder.
While the causes of ergonomic injuries may be vast, there are several movements or working positions that commonly lead to musculoskeletal disorders.
These causes include:
Repeated lifting, including small, large, or awkward items
Exposure to loud noises such as saws, fans, or machinery
Working under bright lights or working in dark spaces
Continually looking at screens or blue lights
Standing or moving in awkward positions or postures
Being required to exert your body or parts of your body forcefully
Continuously using your body to push or pull items
Reaching for items repeatedly or reaching for things out of your normal body range
Being subjected to contact or compression stress
Being required to repeat the same movement many times throughout the day
Staying in the same position or posture for long periods
Working in extreme temperatures or being subject to drastic temperature changes
Working with vibrating machinery for long periods
Not taking enough breaks throughout the day or in between workdays
Being subject to any of the above scenarios can cause ergonomic injuries in the workplace. Often, you must do the movement or be exposed to the method more than one time. Musculoskeletal disorders occur over long periods, unlike a one-time accident or injury.
1.2. Why Ergonomic Issues Usually Happen in the Workplace?
Ergonomic injuries in the workplace are typical for a few reasons. Firstly, workers spend a significant amount of time in the workplace. While they are there, they are expected to do the same task repeatedly to complete their work. Day in, day out, the same task must be performed, often with the same posture or method.
Take, for example, office workers stare at their computers for hours on end. While there, they also type on their ergonomic keyboards using the same motion. This repetition can cause musculoskeletal injuries.
Office workers are amongst the most common when ergonomic injuries are discussed. Many other jobs can result in injuries; for instance, lawn care workers can be subject to health issues. Every day, they are expected to use a line trimmer for hours on end. They must hold the machine in an awkward position. It makes loud noises and vibrates in their hands. These factors can be the cause of an ergonomic injury.
Ergonomic injuries in the workplace can also occur because workstations are meant to be universal. This means that any person can come in and use a workspace. However, people are all unique and have individual needs. The step-up that works for one person may not work for another. If individuals cannot customize their workspace to their own needs, they can suffer from musculoskeletal disorders.
Ergonomic workplace issues can be mitigated or reduced if workers can customize their workstation to their unique situation. Additionally, employers can provide or require workers to set up personal ergonomic desk accessories when at work. Finally, ergonomic injuries in the workplace can be reduced with early detection, so pay attention and listen to what your body is telling you, and visit a doctor.
2. 10 Most Common Ergonomic Injuries and How to Avoid
There are several musculoskeletal injuries you may encounter throughout your career. The ten most common ergonomic injuries in the workplace include:
2.1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Many people know what this ergonomic injury is. This disorder affects the wrist and hands because the nerve inside is negatively affected by repeated movements. Pain and weakness may be felt in the hand or wrist that is so severe that a person cannot go to work until the pain has subsided.
Those who suffer from CTS can be avoided with proper sitting posture at computer. In an office, ensure that your mouse and keyboard are positioned correctly. Make the necessary adjustments until your space is ergonomically aligned. In other industries, try switching between tasks throughout the day so that you are not exposed to one movement for too long.
Bones and muscles attach with a tendon. When this tendon is inflamed, a person can suffer from tendinitis. The tendon becomes inflamed through overexertion, and it can take weeks or months to recover fully. Unfortunately, once injured tendons injure more quickly in the future, it can be a recurring problem.
To avoid this, ensure that you are doing so in the proper position when you lift, bend, push, or pull. Do not lift more weight than you can bear or reach in awkward postures. Ensure your body is also moving with proper form.
2.3. Lower Back Injuries
Many people know all about what this ergonomic injury entails. Lower back injuries are caused when a person overexerts their back through prolonged standing, heavy lifting, improper twisting, and awkward reaching. In essence, any other movement that causes strain on the lower back.
This ergonomic injury in the workplace can be extremely disruptive. A severe case may cause the worker an extended leave of absence. To prevent this, use an ergonomic chair with lumbar support, only lift weights within your strength ability, take sitting breaks, wear shoes with proper support, and not reach beyond your range. Besides that, you can perform some back stretches for back pain and exercises at your desk to help with back pain.
2.4. Tennis Elbow
Not many people know what this ergonomic injury is because they assume it has to do with the game of tennis. It is soreness in the elbow, specifically the outer portion, most often felt in a dominant arm.
To avoid this injury, avoid repetitive movements in the same arm. Try switching back and forth, so both of your arms are exposed to the movement. Also, avoid lifting more weight than you can handle and avoid stretching your arms at awkward angles.
2.5. Visibility Issues
Visibility issues can be in the form of hazards when machinery is being operated, and their operators' sight lines are limited. These visibility limitations mean a coworker may be struck by a piece of moving equipment.
In the case of gear operators, ensure all of your coworkers wear high visibility clothing and keep eye contact with a spotter on the ground. Also, use your peripheral vision to see workers in the distance. Always use your horn and your beacon lights to ensure people hear and see you coming.
2.6. Fall Injuries
When a worker slips, trips, or falls, it may be from improper ergonomic set-ups. Take, for example, a worker may be working on a ladder in an awkward position, causing them to fall.
Fall injuries can be reduced by using three points of contact at all times, ensuring the ladder is tall enough to reach without straining and using an adequately sized ladder for the worker.
2.7. Herniated Disc
This injury is the shifting of a disc in your vertebrae. It is excruciating and can take a very long time to heal. Often, it is caused by bad posture or awkward posture for a prolonged time. It can also lead to muscle weakness.
To prevent a herniated disc, try alternating work positions. This may include standing desk tips for switching between sitting and standing. Working to improve your posture may also be helpful. Finally, if you sit for a long time, make sure to get up and move around to get the blood flowing.
2.8. Sprain or Strain
A strain is an injury to a tendon or muscle that occurs when the area is stretched or torn. This often happens because of excessive repetition of a movement or due to a low working position.
Strains and sprains can be easily prevented by listening to your body. Do not push it beyond its capability and make sure to control your movements within your abilities.
Many people know what this ergonomic injury is, though most do not realize it can result from workplace movements. It is a rheumatic disease that affects the tissues that surround the joints. A person's actions, such as opening and closing their hands, are limited due to the joints' extreme pain and swelling.
While some types of arthritis are hereditary, others can be developed as an ergonomic injury in the workplace. To avoid this, refrain from over lifting, be careful of prolonged exposure to vibrating equipment, change work positions, and reduce working in awkward positions such as crawling.
2.10. Eye Strain
Many people are aware of what this ergonomic injury is. It is when office workers are exposed to screens for an extended period. A worker may experience vision problems, dryness of the eyes, headaches, or eye itchiness.
To prevent this, take regular breaks, use appropriate lighting to reduce glare, and get eye tests yearly to ensure your eyes are healthy.
3. Autonomous as the Optimal Solutions That Prevent Your Ergonomic Injuries
When it comes to ergonomics in the workplace, there is no one size fits all solution. Instead, each person is going to need their own specific and customized solution. This is mainly because every person is built differently and what affects them is unique.
Ergonomic solutions do not need to cost a lot of money. The money a company spends on creating a better functioning workspace can save them money in the end. Workplace injuries can cost firms tens of thousands of dollars for years on end. This is especially true if workers sustain such serious injuries that they can no longer work due to their pain.
Many companies turn to Autonomous options as their optimal solution. In this scenario, workers can ask for accommodations that meet their ergonomic needs. Someone with carpal tunnel syndrome may require wrist support or a keyboard tray. Someone with eye strain may need special lighting to reduce glare such as Ultra wide desk lamps. No matter what they need, a company should consider the cost and try to come to a reasonable solution that meets the worker's needs.
FAQ for Ergonomic Injuries at Workplace
What kind of workers experience ergonomic issues in the workplace?
Ergonomic issues in the workplace are experienced in a vast array of industries. Some of the most common ones include office jobs, food processing, factories, warehousing, construction, landscaping, farming, transportation, healthcare, and firefighting.
I think my workspace is causing an ergonomic injury. What should I do?
Talk to a doctor, do some research, or talk to your employer. All of these are great resources that can give you suggestions on how to improve your workspace.
How do I know if I am suffering from an ergonomic injury?
You likely need a doctor to diagnose a musculoskeletal disorder properly. Some sensations you may experience include pain in wrists, hands, fingers, reduced strength, poor coordination, numbness in body parts, tingling in body parts, reduced eyesight, or a strain in body parts.
Should I use a keyboard tray to adjust the height of my keyboard?
Keyboard trays can help ensure your keyboard is at the right height. However, if you can't afford one or your desk is not compatible, there are many other options. Try raising the height of your chair to change the angle of your arms. Additionally, try adding a footrest so that your legs are not dangling from your chair.
How Can I Mitigate the Causes of Ergonomic Injuries?
There are several ways you can intervene in the causes of ergonomic injuries. Firstly, take appropriate breaks from repetitive tasks. Secondly, wear proper personal protective equipment. Finally, use ergonomic equipment whenever possible. This may include chairs, lighting, or tool handles.
I work in an office. Do ergonomic keyboards really help?
These items can be helpful, as long as you use the ones that are suitable for you. It is also essential to use the keyboard probably to reap the intended benefits.
Ensure your posture is in a neutral position. This means your wrist is in a partial handshake position as opposed to straightened over the keyboard. Additionally, ensure the keyboard itself is in the right place. This means it should sit just below the level of your elbows. You do not want your wrists to be above the height of your elbows.
When Should I See a Doctor?
You should see a doctor when you experience pain at work that won't seem to go away. However, you may want to check with your employer before going. They may require your doctor to fill out specific paperwork for you to get workplace accommodations.
Is it wrong to use a laptop all day as my only work computer?
Laptops are cost-effective and convenient, making them a popular choice for many people. However, extended use can be a cause of ergonomic injuries. Instead of getting an entirely new computer, try purchasing an external keyboard and mouse to attach to your laptop. Then, set up the external keyboard and mouse in proper ergonomic positions.
Ergonomic injuries in the workplace can be detrimental to both the work and the employer. If both parties work together, ergonomic issues can be prevented and reduced. When a worker experiences these issues, it is crucial to find solutions as quickly as possible before problems worsen. Accommodations such as a change in working position, proper seating, keyboard placement, or ergonomic furniture such as a standing desk and ergonomic office chair should be given to the worker. Accommodations like this can save a company money in the long run and protect workers from sustaining lifelong injuries or disorders.
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