Ergonomics Definition & Preventing Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders

When the physical requirements of a job and the physical capacity of the worker don't align, then musculoskeletal disorders can occur.

Ergonomics Defined

Ergonomics is variously defined, but generally is the science of fitting the job to the worker. It includes designing equipment and work tasks to conform to the capability of the worker, and it provides an approach for adjusting the work environment and work practices to prevent injuries before they occur.

Musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs is described by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as:
  • disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage or spinal discs
  • disorders that are not typically the result of any instantaneous or acute event (such as a slip, trip or fall) but reflect a more gradual or chronic development
  • disorders diagnosed by a medical history, physical examination, or other medical tests that can range in severity from mild and intermittent to debilitating and chronic
  • disorders with several distinct features (such as carpel tunnel syndrome) as well as disorders defined primarily by the location of the pain (i.e., low back pain)

Preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders Through Implementation of An Ergonomics Program

An effective occupational safety and health program that addresses ergonomic hazards includes the following major program elements:

Management Leadership/Employee Involvement

Management leadership and employee involvement are important elements of an effective workplace safety and health program. Management commitment provides the resources to deal effectively with ergonomic hazards, while employee involvement through clearly established procedures helps to identify existing and potential hazards and develops an effective way to abate such hazards.

Workplace Analysis

Workplace analysis identifies identify potential ergonomic problems before employee injuries occur. Consideration of ergonomic-related problems in similar industries helps identify and solve problem areas. Workplace analysis may include Ergonomic Assessments as well as passive and active surveillance of incident and/or claims data. Data analysis includes close scrutiny and tracking of injury and illness records to identify patterns that may indicate development of MSDs.

Hazard Prevention and Control

Once ergonomic hazards are identified, designing prevention and control measures should be next. Such controls should encompass engineering controls, administrative controls, behavioral/training controls, and personal protective equipment.

Medical Management

Implementing appropriate medical management is needed to eliminate or reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders through early identification and treatment. A successful program will use health care professionals as part of the team in order to prevent and properly treat MSDs.

Training and Education

Good ergonomics training enables managers and employees identify aspects of job tasks that may increase a worker's risk of developing MSDs, recognize the signs and symptoms of disorders, and participate in development of strategies to control or prevent them. Ergonomics programs should be designed and implemented by qualified persons and tailored to the specific concerns in the workplace.

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