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What Is Industrial Ergonomics And Why It’s Important

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Tim Rhodes

Ergonomics is an applied science that is vital to life and industrial ergonomics is one key aspect of it.

To run a successful business, the well-being of your employees is vital and one must ensure, that the working environment and systems, enhance the safety and health of employees.

Employers work to avoid cases of compensation and employee refund, as a result of ergonomic related complications, thus, Industrial ergonomics ensures a safe and comfortable working environment, to minimize instances of risk and injuries.

Every employer works towards improving productivity in their institutions and companies, and this increased productivity can only be achieved, by getting the workers motivated and comfortable.

Getting the employees comfortable can be achieved, by ensuring a healthy user-friendly working environment, and a good relationship between workers and employees.

Employees also have a significant role to play; this includes reporting any unfriendly work occurrences and ensuring that they keep the workplace comfortable.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the science of fitting a workplace, according to the user’s needs and preferences.

Ergonomics aims to enhance productivity and reduce discomfort.

When we talk about reducing discomfort, it involves factors like the angle of your computer, the height of your desk, and many other factors. 

It is essential to ask yourself, are your eyes straining?

Does your wrist hurt from typing, or are you having backaches from your sitting or working posture?

A clear understanding of ergonomics can help prevent work-related injuries and damages, by adjusting the workplace tools to fit user needs.

Ergonomics ensure that designs complement the strengths and abilities of people, thereby minimizing the effects of their liabilities.

Rather than expecting people to adapt to working in a slightly uncomfortable or stressful environment, ergonomists seek to understand how an environment can be designed, to suit the people’s needs.

To minimize human-based errors, industrial ergonomics is being used, in industries like high hazard industries, transport and aviation sectors, and the healthcare industries.

Modern Technology

Modern technology, and the use of computers in workplaces today, have increased the need for ergonomics.

Keyboards, desks, chairs, monitors, and lighting, must be evaluated when creating a workspace.

Previously, office working tools have encouraged stiffness, limited movements, and fixed postures.

However, ergonomics takes into account the need to move freely, thereby encouraging a balance between sitting and standing, which can be achieved by an adjustable height desk. 

Ergonomics can be classified based on a body part, which will include physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual.

There can be classification based on the application area, which may include educational, industrial, agricultural, and services ergonomics.

Another classification will be based upon interest areas, like the traditional and transfer of technology ergonomics.

Overview Of Industrial Ergonomics

Industrial ergonomics is a subfield of ergonomics, that defines the relationship between the work environment and its employees.

Industrial ergonomics adapts a job’s requirements, to the physical needs of the people who perform the job.

When evaluating a workplace, an industrial ergonomist considers all the individual tasks involved in performing a job and evaluates how tasks will affect the worker.

The analysis of industrial ergonomics involves considering how often a task will be performed, for how long, and the equipment used.

It ensures workers can avoid injuries and minimize accidents, by ensuring the poor ergonomic design, does not hamper hazardous tasks. 

Industrial ergonomics is a means of ensuring workplace safety, by reducing factors that increase the risk of an accident or stress-related injuries.

Safety Priority

Industrial ergonomics is often overlooked as a safety priority, due to the nature of work carried out in an environment.

Nonetheless, ensuring your employees have the right working tools for their tasks, can increase productivity, reduce injuries, and result in healthier employees.

Industrial ergonomics does not only involve purchasing tools that are defined as safe but, it also includes educating your employees, and designing work processes, to ensure employees work safely despite the job site they are on.

However, ergonomics can also raise the risk of occurrence of an accident, due to factors beyond causing injury.

These factors may be performing a task in a high degree of heat or cold, or while facing exposure to vibrations. 

These factors will lower a worker’s capacity to perform the task effectively, and increase the risk involved with a hazardous activity.

Industrial ergonomics is frequently discussed in human-machine interfaces, which describes how a human interface manipulates the operation of a given machine.

Importance of Industrial Ergonomics

The goal of ergonomics is to design a workstation, that fits the users and allows a comfortable working experience.

Industrial ergonomics can make your job more comfortable, regardless of the industry or the size of your industry.

By increasing human well-being, industrial ergonomics can improve the system’s general performance and workers’ general performance.

An effective ergonomic plan can result in better health and well-being of workers, and fewer lost workdays due to injuries.

It can also result in reduced medical/associated costs and improved productivity/efficiency.

Private industries spend an average of 27.44 dollars per hour worked, for employee compensation.

This goes without saying, that the importance of imploring ergonomics in our workplaces and industries, cannot be overemphasized.

Even simple alterations, like improving lighting and temperature for employees, are easy ways to reduce possible accidents.

Working Conditions

Industrial ergonomics improves the working conditions, working tools, and working structure, to achieve the optimum results from work and the person at work.

It enhances the manufacture of manageable products, that are comfortable to use and ensures precise work.

When you apply ergonomics in the initial stages of designing, you can identify different opportunities for innovations.

Ergonomics can help you identify the user characteristics you can take into account, during designing.

This is important because people vary in body size, strength, mobility, sensory activity, mental ability, and experience.

With industrial ergonomics, factors like reaching overhead, lifting heavy weights, pushing and pulling heavy objects, bending, and wrong postures can be avoided.

Ergonomic risk assessment is conducted to ensure, that employees’ input is put into consideration.

The ergonomic assessment, ensures workers are trained and understand the importance of industrial ergonomics, for their well-being and that of the company.

Industrial Ergonomics Hazards

Many ergonomic problems, result from increased repetition and poorly designed job tasks.

Improperly designed tools can also be ergonomic hazards.

Some physical hazards include excessive ionizing and nonionizing electromagnetic radiation, noise, vibration, illumination, and temperature. 

Ergonomics study evaluates a full range of tasks, and it’s not limited to lifting, holding, pushing, walking, and reaching. 

Repetitive motions, or repeated shocks over prolonged periods, can cause irritation and inflammation of the tendon sheath, of the hands and arms.

Back support is crucial for employees, who spend a considerable amount of time sitting down.

An office chair can contribute to fatigue, lower back pain, abdominal cramps, and deep pain thrombosis in the legs.

All these hazards occur if the chair is wrong size, shape, height, and style, for the designated task.

Another ergonomic hazard is, whether the chair sits on casters or is stationary.

A chair could slide back with casters as a worker is sitting down, while with a stationary chair; a worker could lean too far back, causing the chair to tilt and fall.

Artificial lighting can significantly impact a worker’s productivity if it’s too hot, too bright, or too dim.

All these factors can contribute to eye strain, headaches, and nausea, with extroverts having a higher onset for bright lights and glares, than introverts.

Therefore, it’s very wrong to have the assumption of one-size-fits-all.

Ergonomic challenges may occur from natural light, depending on the season and whether office windows are positioned, to receive morning and afternoon sun.

Skylights also have their unique problems if, their position contributes to a greenhouse effect on the employees, seated directly beneath them.

Back, legs and knees are at risk if, the office tasks involve lifting and moving heavy objects.

Another industrial ergonomic hazard is if items such as supplies, equipment, files, and books are placed on high shelves, requiring workers to extend their arms above their shoulders or stand on chairs, and footstool.

Preventing Industrial Ergonomics

Companies and industries, engineers mean to prevent the occurrence of industrial ergonomics, from preventing compensations and risking employees’ health.

Engineering controls eliminate or reduce awkward posture, with ergonomic modifications, that seek to maintain a joint range of motions.

Improving the workplace through engineering controls is a preferred method, for reducing risk.

A process for risk identification and reduction should be put in place, to ensure that physical changes to the workplace are made, which eliminate hazards and reduce risks.

Administrative Controls

Other controls may include the administrative controls, that reduce injury risks.

Some administration controls include job rotation, which is a structured interchange of workers between different jobs.

It requires workers to rotate between different workstations or jobs, at certain time levels.

Having warm-ups, and stretch breaks, ensure your workers are physically ready for work, thus helping to reduce injury risks.

Educating employees on proper lifting techniques should be essential, in your employee training objective.

Early Intervention

Another preventive measure is early intervention and this may involve identifying the early signs of fatigue. 

Early signs of fatigue, is a proactive strategy to find early signs of an injury.

In occupations where there is exposure to radiation, time, distance, and shielding are essential tools for preventing injuries.

The danger with radiation increases with the amount of time one is exposed, hence, the shorter the exposure time, the smaller the radiation danger.

Distance is also a valuable tool, as radiation decreases as you go further away, from the radiation source.

Noise is another physical hazard, that can be controlled and prevented, by implementing engineering, work practice, and administrative controls.

When noise levels exceed 85 dBA, hearing protection must be used.

Other hazards like heat exposure from the sun or in factories such as steel mills, can be controlled by installing reflective shields and providing protective clothing.

Ergonomic hazards are prevented primarily by the practical design of a job, or a job site, and better-designed equipment.

Work-related Disorders

Exposure to repetitive stressors within a workplace or requirements, that force the human body to exert force in a manner that is not adapted, can lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

Anyone engaged in hazardous activities faces an increased risk of accidents, due to physical impairment.

Musculoskeletal disorders are injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs.

These are conditions in which the work environment and performance of work, contribute to the condition, and the condition is made worse or persists longer, due to work conditions.

Routines involving lifting of heavy objects, daily exposure to radiation, work with the neck in permanent flexion position, or performing repetitive forceful taxes, may result in ‘Work Musculoskeletal’ disorders.

Examples of Musculoskeletal disorders include:

  • Sprains, strains, and tears
  • Back pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Hernia
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a disorder associated with the peripheral nervous system, which includes nerves and ganglia, located outside the spinal cord and brain.

It’s the compression of the wrist’s median nerve, which may result in numbness, tingling, weakness, or muscle atrophy in the hands and fingers.

Back injury and back pain is another work-related disorder and back symptoms, are among the top ten reasons for medical visits.

Back injuries involve days away from work, and compensation from companies.

Occupational groups that account for most back-related injuries include operators, fabricators, and laborers.

Arthritis

Arthritis is another work-related disorder; it is a condition that affects joints, the tissues that surround the joints, and other connective tissues.

Arthritis is a concern in the workplace, as it emanates from work-related conditions and may require worksite adaptations, for employees with disabilities.

Arthritis is among the leading causes of disability, in the United States of America.

Occupations like mining, construction, and agriculture are mostly associated, with an increased prevalence of arthritis.

Implementing an Industrial Ergonomic program

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders and injuries are among the leading cases, resulting in daily hospital visits, and these disorders can be avoided, by coming up with an ergonomic program.

There are seven simple steps involved in implementing an ergonomic program.

1. Identifying Risk Factors

The incidences of work-related disorders are either isolated to a particular job or widespread.

The records of complaints are enough, to identify the scope of the problem.

To identify specific jobs or job tasks that put workers at risk, employers need to examine each job task.

A single job setting may present more than one risk factor for work-related disorders.

2. Involve And Train Leadership And Workers

Ergonomic training is vital, for all workers exposed to conditions, that contribute to work-related disorders.

Ergonomic awareness should be provided to most employees, but it needs to be directed to the appropriate audience.

Employers should consider the education level, literacy level, and job interests.

3. Collect Health And Medical Evidence

To determine the scope and characteristics of the problems at your workplace, collecting health and medical evidence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders is crucial.

It is essential to follow up on workers, whose job causes physical fatigue, stress, and discomfort.

If employees report their problems early enough, corrective measures can be taken without delay.

4. Implement Your Ergonomic Program

To implement an ergonomic program, begin by targeting easy to implement solutions, that have been identified in your earlier analysis.

Changing the way you use materials, parts, products, and tools can relieve your workers, from WMSD risks.

5. Evaluate Your Ergonomic Program

Do a proper follow-up, to ensure the controls you implement, reduce, or eliminate WMSD risks.

Besides, ensure no new risk factors are created.

6. Promote Worker Recovery Through Health Care Management And Return-To-Work

Injuries and disabilities come with many adverse health and social outcomes. 

Worker recovery is essential.

7. Maintaining Leadership Commitment

Leadership commitment is essential, to the success of musculoskeletal health awareness training and interventions.

Leadership is responsible for encouraging worker input, on real job hazards.

Ergonomics Awareness Among Employees

Industrial or office ergonomic awareness is designed for employees, to provide a basic understanding of ergonomics. 

Ergonomic awareness training is a significant step any employer can take, to engage the employees.

Training helps improve employee’s competence and confidence, and organizations can maximize their output by engaging in regular training.

Your ergonomic process’s success depends on your team’s ability, to find and fix the ergonomic problems, in your work environment.

Employee learning objectives in your ergonomic training program are:

  • Learn musculoskeletal disorder risk factors and prevention principles
  • Learn proper body mechanics and lifting techniques
  • Learn to report early discomforts and signs of musculoskeletal signs
  • Learn ergonomic risk factors and basic ergonomic principles
  • Learn to accept responsibility for personal health and wellness

It’s now a priority to create awareness on office ergonomics, for safer working in all corporate organizations.

Creating awareness should be done at all levels of work, horizontally and vertically.

For the consent of participation, for all practical purposes, it is advisable to approach employees through formal channels.

Additionally, after training, employers can give feedback forms to the employees, with questions on the usefulness and efficiency of the training.

Industrial Ergonomic Application to Improve Working Conditions

Companies need to change and be up to date, to stay in the business course.

The reason why ergonomics is essential is, that it helps employees work conditions and productivity.

With technology now, ergonomists can track the good and bad aspects of a workstation.

Ergonomists can also identify what is right for workers, like postures that will not cause injuries.

They can also identify what is bad for the employees, such as the wrong concept of the workstation, which implies bad movement or postures.

By studying worker’s body reactions, ergonomists and industrialists can make the improvements needed. 

This will result in more satisfied workers, with better health conditions due to fewer work injuries.

Cost of Bad Ergonomic Categories

Presenteeism

This is when workers ignore discomfort and pain to keep working, resulting in a decrease in the quality and productivity of their work. 

Sick Leave

This implies time taken off from work by an employee, as a result of an injury or sickness.

Costs are even weightier for the company when employees, need to take long periods of sick leave.

Employee Turnover

A poor working environment leads to a high turnover of personnel.

This is because people are, either too injured to work or choose to leave the company, because they do not fulfill their needs.

Others fear they will become sick, thus making the company incur more costs to replace them.

Production Losses

This occurs mainly as a result of poorly designed workplaces and absenteeism. 

Quality And Business Losses

Quality-related issues, resulting from poorly designed workplaces, have costs associated at company levels.

Quality losses mean that scrap costs increase, and large sums of money are spent on recalls and warranties.

Legal Costs

In some cases, workers take companies to court over poor working conditions, ensuing in companies paying hefty fines, and their image getting ruined. 

Final Thoughts

For successful companies, businesses, and organizations, employers must ensure that the working environments are excellent and comfortable.

The relationship, between a working environment and workers, is key to the excellent performance of an employee.

Everyone in a working environment has to get rid of hazardous industrial ergonomics.

For employers, getting the employees informed and trained on how to avoid hazardous ergonomics, will come a long way in ensuring incidences of injuries are avoided.

Employees have to report on the uncomfortable working conditions, and also report on any injuries and strains, before it gets out of hand.

In an uncomfortable working environment, the possibility of injuries, risks, and disability is shared, therefore, everyone’s responsibility is to ensure, that everyone’s health is taken care of.

I hope you found this article helpful, please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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