Ergonomics is the science of fitting the job, equipment and workplace to the worker. It takes the worker's capabilities and limitations into account to ensure that the tasks, equipment, information and environment suit each worker. Proper ergonomic design can increase productivity and reduce job-related injuries like repetitive strain injuries, which can develop over time and lead to long-term disability.
Understanding Musculoskeletal Disorders
One of the goals of an ergonomic consultation is to reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs are caused by repetitive microtrauma to the soft tissue of the body, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Examples of MSDs include carpal tunnel syndrome, low back strain and tendonitis. People who have MSDs frequently experience decreased grip strength, decreased range of motion of joints, low back pain, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet and joint swelling.
The most common reasons people develop MSDs are:
- Awkward postures
- Repetition of an activity
- Contact stress from a body part receiving too much pressure during the day
- Excess force exertion
- Environmental stressors from temperatures, light exposure or vibrations
The effects of an ergonomic consultation
An Ergonomic consultation, also known as ergonomic assessments, are usually conducted for the following reasons.
- To ensure that a worker's workstation is ergonomically designed to minimise the risk of injury and maximise productivity.
- To support the return to work of an injured worker by ensuring that their workstation is designed to minimise any discomfort as they recover from their injury and prevent any aggravation of the injury.
- For workers who work from home, to ensure their home office environment is safe and ergonomically designed.
- When an individual is already experiencing pain or discomfort or has an injury or disability, to ensure they can work safely and comfortably
An ergonomic consultation is a cost effective way of preventing any injury, pain or discomfort for an individual or groups of employees and of meeting an employer’s duty of care.
How ergonomic consultations are performed
To assess the fit between a person and their work duties, occupational therapists consider the job being done, the demands on the worker, the equipment used and the job task information used. The aim is to find the best fit between the worker and their job conditions. Some of the things an ergonomist may do include
- Adjusting the position of the computer keyboard to promote neutral positioning of the wrists to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome
- Adjusting the height of the desk chair to allow the feet to rest flat on the floor and take pressure off the back
- Teaching the correct way to lift heavy objects to prevent back injuries
- Using handle coatings or special gloves to suppress vibrations from power tools
- Changing the order of the daily tasks performed to prevent fatigue and overuse of the same muscles
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Ergonomic consultations as part of occupational therapy
Ergonomic consultations are conducted by registered occupational therapists (OTs) who are rehabilitation specialists specifically trained in the analysis of activity. OTs have the medical understanding and the biomechanical expertise to enhance productivity in the home or workplace, regardless of disease and/or disability.
OTs training includes the analysis of both the physical components of work, as well as psychosocial elements and their relationship. Book your ergonomic consultation today and discover how you can increase productivity and reduce job-related injuries.