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Ergonomic Safety in the Workplace
Safety is our priority.
We try and span a wide variety of topics related to construction and industrial safety. Just recently we published an article about the clear and present dangers found on job sites, offering safety tips to accompany them.
It often seems like office vs. on-site work environments are drastically different. And while there is no debating which environment is consistently more of a threat, there is one emerging area that applies to both – ergonomics.
According to Merriam-Webster, ergonomics is defined as, “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.”
To many folks, ergonomics seems like an issue facing only sedentary office workers. Often, when we think about ergonomics, it is in relation to office tools: keyboards, computer mouse, chair, etc. But ergonomic safety is not restricted to office environments.
The construction industry must recognize that ergonomics and ergonomic safety are important on job sites and in warehouses. There is such thing as the “right way” to perform tasks. It is important to provide your staff with the proper tools and arm them with the knowledge necessary for task and safety success.
Ten Applicable Tips for Improving Ergonomics
1. Proper Tool Choice:
Ergonomically-designed tools – from extension pieces to tools with offset handles – all serve a purpose and can potentially prevent long-term health issues. Encourage your workers to find a tool that is comfortable for them. Why should you spend the few extra bucks to provide your employee with an ergonomically designed hand tool?
Hopefully, you care enough about your employees that their overall welfare and health are motivation enough. But if finance is your primary motivation, the extra few dollars now can help save more substantial amounts later in avoidable medical bills and lost time due to injury.
2. Don’t Bend, Kneel:
Bending over improperly puts a massive strain on the body. Eliminate bending over from your daily routine as much as possible. Kneel when possible, using protective knee pads to lessen the strain. If knee pads are not conducive to the task at hand, opt for a kneeling pad instead. If you’re working on a catwalk or other grid surface, use a layer of core-plast to reduce the pressure points.
3. Don’t Kneel - Stand or Sit:
Wait, didn’t you just tell us to kneel? Yes, as opposed to bending over. But that doesn’t mean kneeling is the most ergonomically friendly posture. Even better than kneeling is standing up straight or sitting. Utilize adjustable work surfaces or specially-made tools to reduce/eliminate the need to kneel or bend. If you must work below knee height, don’t just kneel, but sit, lie on your side, or side-sit. Change positions and move around frequently to prevent discomfort.
4. Reduce the Need for Brute Force:
Lifting and carrying are major occupational safety and ergonomic issues but are generally easy to solve. Use cranes, forklifts, hoists, small electronic lifts, or even hand jacks to lift heavy materials. Use hoists, dollies, and carts to transport materials from point to point. Even if you know you’re capable of carrying something, put ego aside and use the right tool for the job. Your back will thank you later.
5. Lighten Up:
Reducing the weight of materials being used reduces the force and effort needed to lift and place. Do not sacrifice structural integrity, but consider using lightweight caulks, lightweight concrete blocks, and similarly lightweight, but still safe products. Less lifting and carrying leads to fewer injuries from these activities.
6. Invest in Specialized Equipment:
We began talking about this in point one and will continue here. While they will be more expensive than standard equipment, ergonomically-friendly solutions will not only improve the health of your workers but can improve efficiency. Also, consider that you may be rewarded in additional ways.
When employees see you’re spending the extra money on them and genuinely care about their long-term well-being, trust grows. This can lead to an improved company culture, greater employee retention and low turnover. Motorized concrete screed may be a major cost, but it prevents the bodily-stress of doing so manually, as well as only needing one or two people for the task as opposed to the large team required if doing it manually. Vacuum lifters for windows are also more expensive than manual suctions lifters, but it also means that only one person is needed for the task, instead of two or three.
7. Rotate Tasks:
This may sound silly, but offering your workers an extra break or two throughout the day, particularly those engaging in repetitive motions and/or heavy lifting, while also encouraging task rotation, can be a game-changer for ergonomic health. Task rotation not only provides relief from monotonous work but also minimizes the strain on specific muscle groups, contributing to long-term well-being.
8. Problem Recognition:
Educate supervisors or job leads in ergonomics, and encourage them to observe and correct workers. Consider enrolling supervisors and leads in ergonomics seminars and classes. Put together an ergonomics program for your company and workers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health offers a basic primer here.
9. Stretch Breaks:
Encourage them to stretch, not just before work or after lunch, but at other points throughout the day as well. Proper stretching can reduce pain and improve range of motion. Use this visual guide on Ergonomics and stretch breaks published by the University of Virginia.
10. Inform and Educate:
Provide pamphlets, booklets, and flyers for your workers to read and research on their own time.
The CDC offers a comprehensive book titled, Ergonomics for Construction Workers, free of cost. Likewise, OSHA offers hints, tips, and resources for ergonomics on their website. Train your employees to identify ergonomic risks and teach them common solutions to these risks. Investing a little time now can lead to massive rewards down the road – financial or otherwise.
Making changes for the sake of ergonomic safety are generally inexpensive. Likewise, they are not like switching accounting software or some other more complicated transition from one product to another. Making the right changes can improve worker health and safety, increase morale, reduce health care costs, and improve your bottom line.
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