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Preventing Ergonomics Problems

While small business owners want to provide a safe workplace, sometimes potential hazards aren’t readily apparent. Any job in which workers perform repetitive motions or work in areas that aren’t designed or furnished properly, can lead to ergonomic injuries, such as sore wrists or necks, eyestrain or headaches.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), even seemingly safe occupations, like professional services delivery, are susceptible to ergonomic injuries. The BLS reports that ergonomic injuries account for 29 percent of all workplace injuries or illnesses requiring time away from work.

Reducing the frequency and severity of ergonomic injuries provides financial and productivity benefits for small business owners. Whether your employees routinely lift or move heavy objects, or spend most of their days working at a computer, there are ways to reduce the potential risks of ergonomic injuries.

A good way for business owners to start an effective ergonomics program is to ask employees, either informally or through a survey, if they’ve experienced common, painful symptoms such as neck strain, sore wrists, headaches or other common aches. Accident reports also provide empirical data on problems that must be addressed.

Tech Risks Evolving

Working in a mobile environment has become as easy and almost as common as working in an office. Not only are workers using an increasing number of mobile devices, they are now doing so from their car, van or home. While productivity may be the impetus for such change, these trends may be creating some new ergonomic concerns.

For instance, consider the demands on workers who use laptops, tablets and other mobile devices as they hunch over their device at the kitchen table or in a coffeehouse. This puts employees at risk of chronic neck and shoulder pain. Repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are also occurring from excessive use of these handheld communication devices.

Also consider when a worker places a laptop on his or her lap, preventing heat from venting out the bottom of the device. Even through clothing, the buildup of heat can cause superficial skin burns.

Left uncontrolled, these risks can result in an increase in ergonomic injuries. But by working with risk and safety professionals, employers can reduce both potential injury rates and their corporate liability.

There are other workplace factors to consider when ergonomic injury is under review:

  • Computer monitors should be positioned so that workers look at them without having to raise or lower their heads. Holding the head in one place for extended periods can result in neck strain.
  • Pay attention to the lighting in the office and at individual workstations. Make sure lights don’t throw glare on a monitor and cause eyestrain and fatigue.
  • Invest in ergonomic office chairs to improve workplace comfort and productivity. Employees should be able to adjust the height of their chairs and armrests to create the best fit for each team member.
  • Telephone headsets are more comfortable than holding a traditional handset for extended periods, and can reduce neck strain.

Safe Lifting: Lighten the Load

If an employee’s job involves heavy lifting, proper training and equipment reduce the chance of ergonomic injury. Employees who move heavy objects should understand proper lifting technique:

  • Examine the load first. If it appears heavy or awkward, use a hand truck or dolly, or get help from another worker.
  • Bend with the knees, not the back.
  • Push up with the legs to take advantage of the body’s strongest muscles.
  • Grip with the palms, when possible, to provide a stronger grip than lifting with fingers alone.
  • Carry the load close to the body to reduce strain on arms, and to avoid twisting the back while carrying a heavy object.

Your insurance carrier or the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) offer safety information and other resources to help you and your employees understand effective ergonomic design, best employee practices and workplace health and fitness.