Definition of Ergonomics

Ergonomics – the interactions between people and their physical environments can support or challenge health.

The primary role of ergonomics in health is to prevent injuries, particularly musculoskeletal injuries that result from repetitive motions, by identifying interactions that present a risk for injury and implementing interventions to mitigate the risk.

Ergonomic interventions may be as simple as rearranging the work area to put commonly used items within easy reach or may require specialized devices and equipment such as telephone headsets, curved handles on tools, nonglare screens for computers, and implements designed specifically for left-handed use.

Ergonomics also evaluates the movements and actions of commonly performed tasks to minimize the risk of overuse to recommend improved methods and techniques. Many job tasks have evolved without formalized attention to the movements they require, with the consequence that employees develop habits for performing the tasks that may not be ergonomically sound. Actions that cause continual reaching across the body, for example, create repetitive stress for the shoulders, back, and neck.

Changing the pattern of movement to use the other hand or rearranging the work area to eliminate cross-reaching can significantly reduce this stress and its corresponding injuries. An improved method might be as simple as using a footstool or sliding ladder instead of reaching for items on shelves, or could require retraining employees in proper use of equipment and machinery.

Health ConditionCommon TasksRemedies
Carpal tunnel syndrometyping, keyboarding, production line, retail scannerproper technique, ergonomically designed keyboard, frequent movement to stretch fingers and rotate wrists
Eye straincomputer work, watching security monitors, reading, inadequate or inappropriate lightingeyeglasses to accommodate midrange vision, frequent looking away from task to change focal distance, proper lighting
Headachenoise exposure, bright lightsimproved ventilation and airflow
Low back paintwisting, bending, lifting, extensive walking, prolonged standingfrequent stretching and position changes, proper lift and carry techniques, supportive shoes, shock-absorbent flooring
Neck painholding telephone between chin and shoulder, looking at computer or video monitor, frequently turning headheadset, correct height and distance placement for monitor, rearrange workspace to minimize turning
Rotator cuff impingement syndromereaching, production line, throwingreorganize work area to minimize turning, frequent stretching and resting

Ergonomic factors account for about 4 million injuries among Americans each year, about half of which are serious enough to require medical care or limit participation in daily activities. Ergonomic injuries further account for a third of lost work time. Most of these injuries are musculoskeletal.

The US Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA) develops and administers guidelines for ergonomic standards and improvements in the workplace. Though implemented changes to improve the ergonomics of job tasks can prevent future injuries, people who have already experienced ergonomic-related injuries may have longterm or permanent health consequences.


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