There is no OSHA ergonomics standard. But as with other hazards, a hazard assessment is integral to controlling ergonomic risks at the workplace. Here’s a look at the role of hazard assessment and how to perform an ergonomic assessment in industrial settings.
Ergonomic Hazards in Typical Industrial Settings
Although industrial settings come in all shapes and sizes, from the manufacture of complex organic synthesis to crude oil cracking, there are certain kinds of basic ergonomics hazards that are common to them all. Let’s look at each of these.
Repetitive Motion Injuries (RMIs)
Many jobs in industry are repetitious. Look at a production line. You have one employee who only puts in a screw and makes a few turns with the screw driver to secure it or they use the same tool over and over again or they repetitively have to move some object from point A to point B, over and over again. They have to do this many times an hour and how fast they do so depends upon how fast the line is moving.
You also have an employee who has to turn a valve manually. They do the same motion for several minutes at a time and several times an hour.
Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)
Most MSD injuries are what medical personnel refer to as soft tissue injuries. Manual material handling is the main culprit in causing MSDs. MSDs are also hard to diagnose. Employees who complain of a back strain will go to the company physician and complain that their back hurts. There’s not much the doctor can do to disprove the employee’s statement. Muscle injuries won’t show up on X-rays but ligament injuries show up with an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
Of course, this is expensive. The cost for an X-rays range from $50 – $200 while MRIs cost anywhere from $400 to $3,500, with additional charges for the doctor’s report.
Many companies do not have or do not want to spend that amount of money on an employee’s injury treatment, if they don’t have to. If they accept the injury, as reported, most physicians will prescribe hot and cold compresses, bed rest and some physical therapy.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), although mostly thought of as an office problem, is a painful condition caused by repeated aggravation and pressure of the nerves going through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. Any repeated motion that puts pressure on the wrist can cause or aggravate CTS.
How to Do an Ergonomics Hazard Assessment
The Hazard Assessment Checklist for Industrial Settings organizes the factors an ergonomics hazard assessment should cover into 8 groups, including:
Manual Materials Handling considers lifting and handling of loads.
Physical Energy Demands addresses the risks involved with exertion applied by workers to perform tasks.
Other Musculoskeletal Demands considers potential hazards from things like work posture, bending and twisting, changes of position and contraction of limbs.
Environment addresses the physical conditions of the workplace, including lighting, noise levels, vibration and circulation of air.
General Workplace considers the state of housekeeping as well as the presence of obstructions, fall risks and clearance
Tools looks at tool weight, grip, vibration, kickback, etc.
Gloves factors weigh the protective benefits as well as whether gloves require the worker to exert more force and/or subject him/her to additional hazards such as snagging on catch points.
Administration looks at the organization of work tasks, including time pressures, margins for error and the adequacy of breaks.