ASSE: Ergonomics Programs Save Money, Prevent Injuries

Workplace musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the most significant occupational safety and health problems in the United States, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) Ergonomics Branch is providing tips to help reduce MSDs at work and at home as part of October’s National Ergonomics Month.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2005, sprain and strain injuries accounted for more than three-fourths of the MSD cases that resulted in days away from work.

“I do not expect to see much change in that number when data for 2006 and later are released. MSDs are a growing concern in all industries from office work to shipyards; from restaurants to hospitals; and are increasingly on OSHA’s radar scope,” said ASSE Ergonomics Branch Chair Jeremy Chingo-Harris, CSP. “OSHA has recently brought added attention to occupational ergonomics by proposing the addition of a new column on the OSHA 300 log for tracking work-related MSDs. Current OSHA regulations do not have a specific standard addressing ergonomics but maintains the ability to cite a company for poor ergonomics under the general duty clause.”

Chingo-Harris added, “Beyond OSHA, we look at effective ergonomics programs as a cost saving opportunity and the right thing to do for employees. Injuries cost companies and industries millions of dollars every year in direct and hidden costs. Companies need to start asking if they can afford the cost of not incorporating ergonomic practices into their operations.”

The Benefits

The application of good ergonomic design of the workplace can improve productivity, help avoid illness and injury risks and lead to increased satisfaction among workers.

The scope of ergonomics is very broad, but mainly refers to assessing work-related factors that may pose a risk of MSDs and recommendations to alleviate them. Examples of these risk factors are found in jobs requiring repetitive, forceful or prolonged exertions of the hands; frequent heavy lifting, pushing, pulling or carrying of heavy objects; and prolonged awkward postures. Vibration and cold may add risk to these work conditions, according to OSHA. Reducing exposures to any one or all of these risk factors will help reduce the risk of injury to employees.

“We urge employers now to develop and implement effective ergonomic systems to reduce those injuries such as back, arm, wrist and neck injuries usually caused by repetitive motion,” said ASSE Ergonomic Branch member Cynthia L. Roth, CEO of ETC. “An initial investment in effective ergonomic programs removes barriers to quality, productivity and human performance by fitting products, tasks and environments to people, reduces the incidence of injuries and costs.”

A free ergonomics tip sheet for the workplace and home office is available at http://www.asse.org/practicespecialties/ergonomics/ergo_tip_sheet.php.

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