ASSE Urges Employers to Focus on Ergonomics

As Missouri employers and employees brace for the new state workers' compensation law due to go into effect in January, Missouri members of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) suggest employers and employees focus on reducing workplace musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) to help reduce workers' compensation costs.

To reduce the growing number of MSDs in the workplace, ASSE urges employers to develop and implement effective ergonomic systems as part of their overall safety and health efforts in the workplace.

An initial investment in ergonomic programs removes barriers to quality, productivity and human performance by fitting products, tasks and environments to people. This also reduces costs and can save companies millions.

These systems also can apply to the home office.

"Increased productivity, reduced workers' compensation and health claims and a decline in the number of lost workdays are just a few of the benefits realized," ASSE Regional Vice President C. Christopher Patton, CSP, of St. Louis, says. "Efficient ergonomic systems are a valuable asset for business and at the same time increases the ability of the U.S. to compete in a rapidly changing global market."

ASSE member Lawrence Schulze, Ph.D., PE, CPE, associate professor at the University of Houston Department of Industrial Engineering and international speaker on ergonomics, notes that there is no one-size-fits all approach to ergonomics.

"However, in addition to these tips, it is key to train your employees in ergonomics to provide them with the skills, knowledge, abilities and tools aimed at reducing ergonomic injuries," Schulze says.

ASSE recommends the following tips aimed at increasing safety and comfort in the workplace and in the home office:

  • A chair should have a five-point star base for stability; an adjustable backrest (angle, height, and depth) that provides lumbar support; and an adjustable seat pan (height, forward and backward, and tilt angle). Armrests should be padded, adjustable up and down, in and out and swivel. The edge of the seat pan should be at least 4 inches from the soft tissue area behind the knee. The chair should adjust in height to allow a greater-than-90-degree angle between the trunk and the thigh.
  • A document holder that is the same height and distance from the user as the display screen should be provided when the primary task is data entry.
  • Keyboards should be detachable and adjustable to allow straight/parallel hand-forearm posture.
  • A desk or tabletop should allow legroom for posture adjustments for the seated worker while also providing a 90-degree angle of the elbow and the work surface. The same also is true regarding the elbow angle for the sit/stand and the standing user.
  • For lighting and glare, the characters on the computer screen should be brighter than the screen background. Bright light sources in the peripheral field of the computer screen should be avoided. The computer screen should be positioned to avoid glare. Adjusting the window shades and moving or tilting the terminal can help avoid glare and screen reflections.
  • For posture, the head should be tilted 15 degrees forward or less to maintain a vertical position. The elbows should be kept close to the body or supported. The lumbar curve of the back should be maintained. Feet should never be allowed to dangle and should always be supported.
  • Dry eye can occur because people tend to blink less when viewing monitors. Due to this, fatigue also can set in.
  • In the home office, be wary of falls that could occur when reaching high shelves and storage, and tripping on cables, wires, ironing cords, toys, fans, etc. Floor surfaces should be in good condition carpets not torn or frayed and should be affixed to the floor or have slip-resistance pads underneath them; avoid having heated surfaces such as coffeemakers, hot plates and portable heaters in the office as they could trigger a fire. Be aware that in older homes, the existing electrical circuits may not be able to handle the additional electrical load from fax machines, computers, scanners and other office equipment as well as air conditioning units used explicitly in the office.
  • Also, in the home office, if the workstation is to be used by children, ensure that it can be adjusted to the children for reach, seat pan size, chair height and foot support.
  • At home, have a licensed/bonded electrician inspect the home electrical system and upgrade it if necessary to assure the current protection and load will meet demands.
  • At home, develop a fire evacuation plan (such as installing a ladder as an escape route if your office is on the second floor) and move desks closer to power outlets and phone jacks or install new outlets. Make sure installed fire extinguishers are acceptable for multiple exposures.
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