ASSE Offers Free 'Ergonomics Tip Sheet'

Workplace musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the most significant occupational safety and health problems in the United States, according to NIOSH. The American Society of Safety Engineers' Ergonomics Branch is providing tips to help reduce MSDs at work and at home as part of October's National Ergonomics Month.

While a common cause of work MSDs is long or frequent exposure to awkward posture and forces to joints of the body when performing work tasks, the control is good ergonomic design of the workplace. OSHA describes occupational ergonomics as the science of designing workplace conditions and job demands to fit the capabilities of the working population.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005 sprain and strain injuries accounted for more than three-fourths of the MSD cases that resulted in days away from work.

"I do not expect to see much change in that number when data for 2006 and later are released. MSDs are a growing concern in all industries from office work to shipyards; from restaurants to hospitals; and are increasingly on OSHA's radar scope," said Jeremy Chingo-Harris, CSP, ASSE Ergonomics Branch chair. "OSHA has recently brought added attention to occupational ergonomics by proposing the addition of a new column on the OSHA 300 log for tracking work-related MSDs. Current OSHA regulations do not have a specific standard addressing ergonomics but maintains the ability to cite a company for poor ergonomics under the general duty clause."

"Musculoskeletal disorders continue to be a major problem for American workers. They’re real and they’re hurting a lot of people," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA,. "OSHA believes that putting the MSD column back on the work-related injuries and illnesses log will provide useful information that workers and employers can use to better identify MSDs and keep workers healthy and safe."

Chingo-Harris added, "Beyond OSHA we look at effective ergonomics programs as a cost saving opportunity and the right thing to do for employees. Injuries cost companies and industries millions of dollars every year in direct and hidden costs. Companies need to start asking if they can afford the cost of not incorporating ergonomic practices into their operations."

The application of good ergonomic design of the workplace can improve productivity, help avoid illness and injury risks, and lead to increased satisfaction among the workforce. The scope of ergonomics is very broad, but mainly refers to assessing work-related factors that may pose a risk of MSDs and recommendations to alleviate them. Examples of these risk factors are found in jobs requiring repetitive, forceful, or prolonged exertions of the hands; frequent heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying of heavy objects; and prolonged awkward postures. Vibration and cold may add risk to these work conditions, according to OSHA. Reducing exposures to any one or all of these risk factors will help reduce the risk of injury to employees.

ASSE's Ergonomics Branch member Lawrence J. Schulze, Ph.D., P.E., CPE, noted there is no one-size-fits all approach to ergonomics, "However, in addition to these tips, it is key to train your employees in ergonomics to provide them with the skills, knowledge, abilities, and tools aimed at reducing ergonomic injuries."

A free "Ergonomics Tip Sheet" for the workplace and home office is available here.

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