Hey friend! Have you ever felt pain or strain in your back, neck, wrists or other parts of your body after a long day at work? Those aches and pains may be caused by ergonomic hazards.
In this complete guide, we’ll walk through what exactly an ergonomic hazard is, what causes them, their effects on your body, and most importantly—how to prevent them.
Knowing how to create an ergonomically friendly workspace is so important for your long-term health and comfort. Trust me, you don’t want to learn the hard way after already suffering from chronic back pain!
Causes of Ergonomic Hazards
So what exactly causes these pesky ergonomic hazards? There are a few key factors that contribute:
This is when your body is positioned in an unnatural or strained way during work tasks. For example, reaching across your desk for papers, hunching over your computer, or looking up at something overhead forces your muscles to work harder. Maintaining these postures for a long time leads to fatigue and strain.
Ever notice that some people barely move while working? Static posture is when you stay in one position for a prolonged period. Even if your posture looks “correct”, holding any posture for too long causes fatigue. Our bodies are designed to move!
This occurs when a part of your body presses against a hard surface or edge for an extended period. Common examples are resting your wrists on a hard desk edge or kneeling on a hard floor. This concentrated pressure can strain joints and tissues.
Repeating the same motion over and over is a fast track to injury. Typing, clicking a mouse, scanning items, and other repetitive actions can lead to strains like carpal tunnel syndrome. Our bodies need variety!
Lifting heavy objects, pushing/pulling heavy loads, and other strenuous tasks add high forces on our muscles and joints. Doing these types of activities repeatedly or for long periods increases the risk of injuries and strains.
Effects of Ergonomic Hazards
So now you know what causes ergonomic hazards, but what actually happens to your body when you’re exposed to them? Some common effects include:
Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)
This is the umbrella category ergonomic injuries fall under. MSDs affect muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs. Common examples include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome – pinched nerve in the wrist
- Tendonitis – swelling of tendons
- Back pain – strained spinal muscles
- Neck pain – strained neck muscles
- Shoulder/wrist/elbow strains – strained muscles and tendons
MSDs range from mild soreness to severely debilitating. The pain can become chronic if left unchecked.
Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTDs)
These disorders occur from repeated exposure to ergonomic hazards over months or years. The damage accumulates over time, eventually leading to injury. CTDs include tendonitis, tension neck syndrome, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs)
As the name suggests, these are injuries that result from repetitive motions. RSIs are one of the most prevalent ergonomic injuries. Examples are trigger finger, tendonitis, and cubital tunnel syndrome.
Other effects like fatigue, reduced productivity, and psychological distress are common as well. Bottom line – ergonomic hazards negatively impact both physical and mental health.
Preventing and Controlling Ergonomic Hazards
Now that you really understand why ergonomic hazards wreak havoc on your body, let’s talk about how to prevent them.
The key is using the “Hierarchy of Controls”, a system that helps minimize hazards through different methods:
This means completely removing the hazard if possible. For example, investing in an adjustable standing desk so you’re not sitting all day.
Swap out hazards for less risky alternatives. Replace heavy boxes with smaller containers so loads are lighter.
Make changes to the work environment or equipment. Adding lifting aids, carts with wheels, or adjustable chairs/workstations are examples.
Implement policies and procedures to reduce hazards. More frequent breaks, job rotation, and ergonomics training help minimize risk.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE is the last line of defense but should not be the only control! Back belts, wrist braces, and anti-vibration gloves protect vulnerable body parts.
Applying this hierarchy is crucial for hazard prevention. Now let’s see how it plays out in specific work settings:
- Eliminate awkward reaching by rearranging your desk space.
- Substitute your office chair for an ergonomic model.
- Use monitor risers and adjustable keyboards (engineering controls).
- Take regular stretch breaks (administrative control).
- Wear wrist rests for support (PPE).
- Eliminate lifting tasks with conveyors and carts.
- Substitute heavier materials with lighter versions.
- Install lifting aids and powered equipment (engineering).
- Rotate workers between different stations (administrative).
- Wear back braces for lifting protection (PPE).
- Eliminate overhead work using lifts and hoists.
- Substitute hand tools with lighter, ergonomic models.
- Provide kneeling pads and carts with wheels (engineering).
- Schedule mandatory stretch breaks (administrative).
- Use anti-vibration gloves for tool use (PPE).
See how easy it is to integrate ergonomic principles once you know the basic hierarchy?
Examples of Ergonomic Hazards in Different Industries
To really drive the point home, let’s outline some specific ergonomic hazards you may encounter in various work environments:
Repetitive typing motions, prolonged sitting, awkward reaching, and poor lighting are common issues. These can result in chronic neck/back pain, eye strain, and carpal tunnel syndrome over time.
- Lifting and manually moving heavy materials often requires awkward postures and excessive forces. This frequently leads to back injuries and strains.
- Pushing and pulling carts or equipment can put extensive pressure on the shoulder and arm joints, causing issues like bursitis.
- Reaching to retrieve items from low shelving or repeatedly bending to pick up objects off the floor can cause back and knee problems.
- Twisting while carrying loads puts the back at risk.
- Power tools and other vibrating equipment can damage muscles and tendons, especially in the hands and wrists.
- Lifting heavy materials like wood, concrete, and tools strains the back muscles.
- Working overhead to paint, drill, or complete roofing tasks can cause neck tension and shoulder injuries.
- Kneeling on hard surfaces to lay tile or finish flooring damages the knees over time.
- Gripping and operating hand tools and power tools often lead to issues like carpal tunnel and tendonitis.
- Vibrating jackhammers, compactors and other equipment increase the risk of hand-arm vibration syndrome.
Yikes! As you can see, ergonomic hazards lurk around many corners in our work lives.
After reading this guide, you should now understand:
- What ergonomic hazards are and what causes them
- The various musculoskeletal disorders and injuries they can lead to
- Ways to prevent and control hazards using the hierarchy of controls
- Examples of common ergonomic issues in office, manufacturing, and construction
Knowledge is power when it comes to reducing workplace ergonomic hazards. So be empowered to make positive changes for your health and safety!
We covered a lot of ground here on the dangers of ergonomic hazards, but the key is having strategies to address them. No one should have to suffer in pain day after day just trying to do their job.
Luckily, with some awareness and proactive changes, you can create an ergonomically healthy workspace. Your body will thank you!
Remember to implement the hierarchy of controls, stay diligent with administrative policies, provide the right PPE, and train workers routinely. Making your work environment ergonomically friendly takes effort but pays off tremendously in the long run.
Now you can confidently answer “What is ergonomic hazard?” and spread the word on better practices. Here’s to healthier, happier bodies in the workplace!