Almost 2 million U.S. workers report musculoskeletal related disorders each year. Of those injuries, about 600,000 require the worker to take time off to recover. Ergonomics is the solution to preventing these work-related MSD injuries and illnesses.
Ergonomics is the practice of fitting the job–including every job task–to the worker, and that includes communication. For example, in order to stay connected to work 24/7, your employees may constantly check their personal digital assistants (PDAs). Using these devices over a long period of time can lead to repetitive motion injuries if workers don’t know how to use them ergonomically. The problem occurs when gripping the PDA in the palm of the hand between the four fingers and the fatty pad below the thumb, and using the thumb of the same hand to type on the tiny keypad. This can aggravate arthritis and lead to tendonitis of the thumb and other ailments.
Teach your workers these tips from the American Physical Therapy Association:
- Take frequent breaks from your PDA. Don’t type for more than a few minutes.
- Write fewer and shorter messages. Abbreviate your responses.
- Don’t use your thumb for typing; use the fingers of the other hand instead.
- Stretch your fingers periodically; hold the stretch for 10 seconds, and repeat it 8 times.
Computer operators, too, may develop ergonomic injuries to many different body parts–including the back, neck, shoulders, hands, wrists, fingers, and eyes–unless they follow ergonomic guidelines to protect themselves. Train employees about ergonomically correct computer workstations, and help them create one that includes the following:
- Furniture that is adjustable to fit the size of each worker
- Easy access to all necessary tools and equipment
- An ergonomic chair with a comfortable and wide seat
- Seat height that allows the feet to rest flat on the floor or on a footrest
- A backrest with an adjustable lumbar support
- Armrests that are broad and cushioned
- A computer monitor placed directly in front of the worker, placed so that the user’s eyes are aligned with a point 2 to 3 inches below the top of the screen, tilted back just slightly to help prevent glare, and located an arm’s length from the user
Teach workers how to use the keyboard safely by placing their hands and wrists in a neutral position with elbows close to their bodies. In addition:
- Wrists should be flat (not bent) and in line with forearms.
- Do not rest wrists on a wrist rest when typing.
- Control the mouse movement from the elbow while keeping the wrist straight and neutral.
Breaking Repetitive Patterns
Also teach workers these exercises to protect themselves from ergonomic injuries.
- Relax hands by making a fist, then extending and spreading the fingers. Repeat several times.
- Shrug shoulders–roll shoulders forward and back.
- Stretch neck by rotating the head up and down, turning from side to side, and tilting the head toward each shoulder.
- Bend forward in a chair and touch the floor.
- Stand up, place hands on hips, and bend backwards.
- Take mini-breaks as well, to change position at least every hour.
- Get up and walk to the printer or copier or get a drink of water.
- Every 15 minutes, look away from the monitor and focus on something at a distance of about 20 feet.