Protect musculoskeletal health through engineering and administrative controls that ensure worksite design fits within the capabilities and limitations of the human body. Implementing a proactive ergonomics process that controls risk before an injury occurs is a fundamental concept in the total musculoskeletal health approach.
The Total Musculoskeletal Health approach integrates health protection with health promotion into a single strategy to advance worker well-being. The four areas of focus for effective Total Musculoskeletal Health initiatives are: protect, promote, prevent, and perform.
Optimize the work environment to match the capabilities and limitations of people through the art and science of ergonomics.
Deliver preventive healthcare upstream to promote musculoskeletal health where it drives better outcomes and the highest value on your investment.
Shift the focus from treatment to prevention, transforming musculoskeletal health from a cost center to a profit center.
Unlock the human potential of your organization by giving people the opportunity to do their best work.
This is the new, proactive, prevention-focused approach to musculoskeletal health. View the graphic below to learn more.
How Ergonomics Protects Musculoskeletal Health
Musculoskeletal health protection is primarily accomplished through a proactive ergonomics improvement process.
Ergonomics is the science of designing the workplace, keeping in mind the capabilities and limitations of the worker. A proactive ergonomics process systematically quantifies and reduces ergonomic risk factors through consistent workplace improvements.
The three primary ergonomic risk factors to reduce are high task repetition, awkward postures, and excessive force requirements.
Reduce high task repetition
Many work tasks and cycles are repetitive in nature, and are frequently controlled by hourly or daily production targets and work processes. High task repetition, when combined with other risks factors such high force and/or awkward postures, can contribute to the formation of MSD. A job is considered highly repetitive if the cycle time is 30 seconds or less.
Excessive or unnecessary motions should be reduced if at all possible. In situations where this is not possible, it is important to eliminate excessive force requirements and awkward postures.
Other control methods to consider are Job enlargement, job rotation and counteractive stretch breaks.
Reduce awkward postures
Neutral postures are postures where the body is aligned and balanced while either sitting or standing, placing minimal stress on the body and keeping joints aligned.
Neutral postures minimize the stress applied to muscles, tendons, nerves and bones and allows for maximum control and force production.
The opposite of a neutral posture is an “awkward posture.” Awkward postures move away from the neutral posture toward the extremes in range of motion. This puts more stress on the worker’s musculoskeletal system, is a contributing risk factor for Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), and should be avoided.
Following are examples of Neutral vs. Awkward postures for the wrist, elbow, shoulder and back. When you put on your “ergo eyes”, you’ll immediately begin to notice when workers are in awkward postures and when they are maintaining a neutral posture.
Neutral and awkward wrist postures (source)
Neutral and awkward elbow postures (source)
Neutral and awkward shoulder postures (source)
Neutral and awkward back postures (source)
Pistol grip vs. inline grip drivers to maintain neutral posture (source)
Reduce excessive force requirements
Excessive force is one of the primary ergonomic risk factors. Many work tasks require high force loads on the human body. Muscle effort increases in response to high force requirements which increases fatigue and risk of an MSD.
There are numerous conditions that affect force, but the idea is to recognize when a job or task requires excessive force and then find ways to reduce that force.
Eliminating excessive force requirements will reduce worker fatigue and the risk of MSD formation in most workers. Using mechanical assists, counter balance systems, adjustable height lift tables and workstations, powered equipment and ergonomic tools will reduce work effort and muscle exertions.
Reduce Risk to Protect Musculoskeletal Health
The end result of workplace improvements that reduce ergonomic risk factors is a job that is easier, faster, and more enjoyable to do for employees. This translates into lower injury risk, increased productivity, and a higher quality product.
This is an installment of the Total Musculoskeletal Health series. Stay tuned for next week’s article on how to proactively promote musculoskeletal health. Sign up here to make sure you don’t miss out.