Ergonomic Evaluation

Ergonomic Evaluation Image | Ergonomic Evaluation

Simply stated, ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to the person, rather than requiring the person to conform to the physical parameters of the job. Ergonomics focuses on identifying strategies to allow you to perform the job in the most efficient manner possible, with the least amount of strain on your body. The more frequently or forcefully you do a task, the more important it becomes for you to pay attention to the ergonomics of the task. Good ergonomics result in increased efficiency and productivity, and improved health.

ProActive Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation, LLC provides ergonomic services to individuals who need an assessment of their work, home or leisure activities to relieve pain, increase performance and/or increase productivity. ProActive also consults with businesses to incorporate ergonomic principles into the work setting.

Ergonomics in Business

While the field of ergonomics is over 50 years old, only in the past decade has it become mainstream, at least as it applies to computer workstations. There are hundreds, make that thousands, of products on the market that are ergonomic (which translates to expensive!) Ergonomics is not a label; it is a systematic approach to analyzing how a task is performed and the environment in which it is performed, making changes, and reassessing the outcomes. Having a good ergonomic program is a benefit, not an expense. An effective ergonomics program increases productivity while decreasing risk factors for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD,) also known as repetitive strain injuries (RSI.)

In 2009, the most recent data available from the Bureau of labor Statistics, RSI/MSD were the most prevalent cause (68%) of workers compensation injuries involving missed work days (555,872 injuries).

  • Back injuries accounted for 43% of RSI/MSD with 237,160 lost time injuries, requiring an average of 7 days to recover.
  • Shoulder injuries accounted for over 13% of lost time RSI/MSD (74,064) with an average of 22 lost days for each injury.
  • Wrist RSI/MSD, including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome accounted for 6.5% of lost time injuries (36,107) with an average of 14 lost days (21 for CTS.)
  • Workers in the 45-54 year age group accounted for 25% of all reportable (lost time) injuries. Companies with an aging workforce have special ergonomic needs to address.

This data does not include unreported RSI/MDS with no lost days, but result in decreases in worker productivity. The direct and indirect costs of RSI/MSD are a preventable source of loss for businesses of all sizes.

Small businesses are often hit hardest by even a single event, because the cost of care is a higher percentage of their gross revenue, and they may not have the staff to make up the lost productivity.

The best treatment for RSI/MSD is prevention. ProActive Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation offers a variety of ergonomic services to help businesses implement an ergonomic program. Some companies only need instruction and guidance to develop their program internally while others may need assistance with safety/ergonomic training, ergonomic assessment of an injured or at-risk worker, or systematic ergonomic assessment of the entire company with an executive report and execution plan. Your ProActive ergonomic consultant will work with you to customize a program that fits your company budget. Good ergonomics programs are always cost-effective; they save more than they cost.

Call ProActive Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation for a complimentary consultation to see how an expert in prevention and treatment of repetitive strain injuries can help your company define and address your ergonomic needs.

Systematic Ergonomic Solutions

Ergonomic principles, both good ones and bad ones, are a thread that is woven throughout the fabric of your business. They are reflected in the layout of the physical space, the selection of fixtures, the lighting, the work flow, and even the policy and procedure manual! Clearly a systematic approach must be employed to assess the strengths and weaknesses in your current ergonomic program. Most of our ergonomic customers called for help because they just didn't know where to begin!

The first question that needs to be addressed is Do we have a problem that requires an ergonomic solution? Many times, the problem is brought to light when a pattern of minor injuries or ill-defined complaints is noticed by the Employee Health Nurse. By this time the problem is already costing the company in terms of decreased productivity, increased errors, and/or increased absenteeism. A Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist (CEAS) from ProActive Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation can help identify potential problems before they begin to negatively affect your bottom line.

Once ergonomic problems are identified, your ProActive ergonomic consultant can help you prioritize them and develop a plan to mitigate each to the extent possible. Ergonomic solutions are often a matter of employee training, administrative controls, and/or re-purposing current resources.

The systematic ergonomic assessment approach goes beyond fixing existing ergonomic problems. Ergonomic impact should be considered in every company decision moving forward, from adding a new assembly line to purchasing pens. When ergonomics is an integral part of job and workplace design, rather than an afterthought, it is no more expensive to choose a good ergonomic design for a workplace than to choose a bad design.

Call ProActive Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation for a complimentary consultation to see how a Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist can help your company identify ergonomic problems and develop an effective systematic ergonomics program.

Individual ergonomic assessment

An ergonomic evaluation is a formal, structured process that assesses many physical and cognitive parameters of the worker, the workspace, and the job characteristics to determine if the job fits the worker and to identify ALL risk factors for repetitive strain injury (RSI). Ideally, the ergonomic assessment would occur proactively, before the worker becomes symptomatic.

Imagine how unproductive it would be an average adult had to do his job while sitting at the desk of a second-grader; and how uncomfortable he would be after a short period of time! If he sat at that workstation for days or weeks, he would likely develop symptoms that persisted even after he went home for the day (i.e a RSI.) This is typically the point when an ergonomic evaluation is requested. A trained evaluator would perform a detailed, systematic evaluation that might include:

  • Taking anthropometric measurements of the body, including standing and seated height, arm length, leg length, and more than 20 other parameters
  • Measuring the desk and chair, the computer on the desk and any other tools or items used while working, noting adjustability features of each
  • Taking still photographs of the workstation and of the worker using the workstation,
  • Drawing a scale sketch of the room and furnishings
  • Videotaping the worker performing the essential activities typically performed over the course of the workday.
  • The evaluation typically lasts 60-90 minutes, if the evaluator leaves the video recording and collects it later.

    The evaluator would then study the videotape, counting repetitive motions at each joint, timing sustained positions and noting awkward postures that are known risk factors for repetitive strain injuries. The analysis of all the data collected will allow her to prioritize the risk factors she observed, and develop an intervention plan. By applying the systematic process, she will avoid three common errors that are a threat to the success of the ergonomic plan:

    • Focusing on the main complaint of the worker and missing a more serious risk factor
    • Mitigating one risk factor, but causing another (potentially more threatening) problem
    • Addressing each problem independently of the others, resulting in higher costs to resolve them.
    • An intervention plan for the unfortunate fellow working at the child's desk is undoubtedly going to involve getting adult-sized furniture, but may also include modifications to address laptop ergonomics and improve room lighting. A formal report is provided with every ergonomic evaluation performed by a ProActive therapist. The report includes detailed furniture layout, equipment recommendations, workstation set-up and education/training recommendations. Once the recommendations have been implemented, the therapist will re-evaluate using the same systematic process to ensure that the plan has been implemented correctly, all risk factors are below the risk threshold, and no new risk factors have been created.

      If you feel you may need an ergonomic assessment to function more effectively at home or at work, call ProActive Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation, LLC for a complimentary consultation with a Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist.

Ergonomic Solutions for Ageing Workers

Ageing Worker: Anyone who's at least 10 years older than you.

Today's workers are remaining in the workforce longer than ever before. Baby Boomers collectively have low rates of absenteeism, loyalty to the company, and excitement and willingness to accept change. Employers who are fortunate enough to have employees in this age group probably already recognize that they have positive attitudes taking direction from supervisors, more traditional views on etiquette (e.g. less likely to text on the cell phone during the work day) and high levels of accountability.

By 2014, one third of the work force will be over 50 years old. As the baby boomers continue to age, the annual growth rate of over-55 workers will be four times higher than the growth rate of the remaining work force. This population of the workforce appears to be at higher risk for developing repetitive strain injuries than other groups. In 2009, workers in the 45-54 year age group accounted for a disproportionate 25% of all reportable (lost time) injuries. There are several factors associated with aging that contribute to higher incidences of repetitive strain injuries.

  • More likely to have chronic medical conditions that delay recovery from cumulative microtrauma
  • Hearing loss, especially in the mid-range (affecting conversation with background noise)
  • Decreased vision, especially for near vision
  • Decreased muscle strength and flexibility
  • Joint wear and tear, decreased mobility
  • Slower reflexes/reaction time
  • Decreased endurance (earlier onset of fatigue)

The ultimate determinant of a workers ability to perform his or her job is fatigue. Errors increase and productivity decreases with physical and/or mental fatigue.

Ergonomic interventions for this population will not only address risk factors, but will also

  • prevent fatigue to increase productivity
  • Give the body optimal biomechanical advantage to improve leverage (increase ability to produce muscle force/strength) and reduce friction that causes microtrauma and inflammation.
  • Promote and sustain circulation.

Diane Wilson, PT, CEAS II has the medical background to understand the physiologic processes of the aging worker and how they interact with the ergonomic process. She has certification in Ergonomic Solutions for the Ageing Workforce.

Ergonomic Risk Factors

While OSHA does not have enforceable ergonomic standards, it has published guidelines to address risk factors associated with repetitive strain injuries caused by excessive stress on joints and soft tissues (e.g. muscles, tendons and ligaments, nerves.) The strain can cause changes immediately (macrotrauma) or over time (microtrauma.) The risk factors are divided into five categories, but can occur simultaneously during a task.

  • Repetitive movements: Performing the same motions over and over can create microtrauma and inflammation in your tissues. (e.g. keyboarding, using a trigger-activated tool.)
  • Awkward or sustained postures: Working in a less-than-ideal posture loads your joints, muscles and nerves at a point in the range of motion where they are less able to tolerate the load. (e.g. twisting, kneeling , squatting, bending.) Staying in one position too long can decrease circulation, depriving the tissues of the nutrients they need to function and stay healthy. (e.g. sitting at a call center desk without taking a break, working with your arms overhead)
  • Forceful movement: forceful muscle contractions can overload the tissues rapidly, causing trauma and inflammation more immediately than repeated movements. (e.g. heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling; using your knee to stretch a carpet.)
  • Contact pressure: Contact of part of the body against a hard surface decreases circulation and puts pressure on tissues, causing microtrauma and inflammation. (e.g. resting your wrists on a wrist rest while keyboarding, walking with a cane or crutches, sitting on the edge of a table.)
  • Vibration: Whole body (e.g. driving a truck) or segmental (e.g. using a powered hand tool) may cause injury to soft tissues, especially nerve tissue. It is unclear to what extent vibration alone is a risk factor, but there is evidence that vibration compounds other risk factors.