Ronald Pitcher Ronald Pitcher

Prevent Injury with a Focus on Ergonomics

March 31, 2022

What is ergonomics and how does it affect us? Ergonomics is the study of the relationship between people, their work and their workplace. Its primary goal: To help the body move in natural ways and reduce stressors that might cause damage and pain.

All too common in metal forming and fabricating facilities: the onset of musculoskeletal disorders, which can develop either suddenly or over time and cause debilitating pain and result in lost time and wages at work. The most common pains come from strains in the neck, lower back, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands and eyes, due to one or more of four primary risk factors:

  • Awkward posture
  • Excessive force
  • Repetitive motion
  • Contact stress.

The way employees lift and move their bodies is a major contributing factor in various disorders. How a workstation is set up can determine an operator’s risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder over time. Improper positioning in the workstation can cause various disorders by requiring an operator to unnecessarily reach or strain.  And operators forced to constantly bend or twist to perform regular tasks face increased risk of developing a disorder.

However, shops can avoid these problems by paying attention to several basic guidelines.

Warm Up: There is real value in practicing basic stretching exercises for our hands, wrists, back and neck to prepare our bodies for work. Begin with your hands and wrists, stretching them thoroughly for the movements typically made at work. Stretch your neck gently from side to side and then from front to back. Stretch your back while sitting in a chair by bending your chin toward your knees.

ergonomics-lift-properlyLift Properly: When lifting, first take a good look at the load. If it is too awkward, big or heavy, ask for help. Often, workers lift items too big for them simply because they are unwilling to ask for help, resulting in unnecessary pain and lost wages. Success at your job means asking for assistance when necessary. 

Second, lift with your legs, never with your back. With a straight back, keep weights at shoulder level. Bending at your waist while lifting heavy objects can strain back muscles, causing pain and musculoskeletal disorders.

Third, avoid lifting and twisting in the same motion. Start by getting the object off the ground. Then once your legs are straight you can move your legs rather than twist your back.

Early symptoms of strain:

  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Eye fatigue
  • Tingling, numbness, aching and/or warm sensations in the hands or upper arm
  • A decrease in grip strength
  • Restricted breathing.

One final thought: back belts have not been proven to be an effective injury-prevention measure when used alone. The only way to effectively prevent back injury is to follow the correct lifting procedures, with or without a back belt.

Take Breaks: Although operators can take many steps to avoid musculoskeletal disorders, repetitive-motion injuries and other ergonomic-related problems, one of the best ways to prevent pain is to recognize that muscles require periodic rest. 

As you work, take regular breaks to stretch and rest your muscles. If you spend a considerable amount of time sitting, regularly stand up and stretch. When working on lengthy, detailed tasks, stop and stretch your hands and wrists. And if you have been standing for long periods, sit down and stretch your back.

Also look for opportunities to periodically switch tasks with a coworker, to give one set of muscle groups a rest while using others. A little common sense can go a long way in reducing your risk of pain and lost wages in the long term.

Stay Alert: If you feel your workstation setup should be reviewed, bring this information to your supervisor’s attention. Everyone deserves to work without pain. 

Finally, Don’t Forget Office Workers 

… staring at computer screens all day. Provide glare-reducing attachments for monitors and avoid using red or blue backgrounds and fonts.   Give your eyes a break and look away several times per hour.  And, don’t forget to blink!

Sitting in a chair all day? Use lower back support and work on your posture. Try adjusting your chair and varying foot placement; maybe even use a box to raise your feet.  Adjust keyboard height and angle, as well as mouse position.  MF

Industry-Related Terms: Bending, Forming, Twist
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms


See also: Pitcher Insurance Agency, Inc.

Technologies: Safety


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