How to Identify Ergonomic Risk Factors for a Safer Work Environment

One of the keys to establishing effective ergonomics on the job is to ensure that the workspace and position requirements match the physical capabilities of employees. When the demands of the job begin to compromise physical ability, and put stress and strain on the body, the rates of Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)increases. Ergonomic equipment, such as height adjustable lifts, can help, but first you need to identify where help is required. Here’s what to look for:


Maintaining proper posture throughout the day is essential to avoiding MSDs. The body should be properly balanced and joints should be aligned when either standing or sitting. This reduces the stress applied to muscles, joints and tendons. Examples of good posture include keeping the back straight, wrists and hands in line with the arm, and the avoidance of twisting the torso. Ergonomic equipment such as electric tugs, height adjustable lifts and vacuum and magnetic lifts can aid posture.

Highly Repetitive Tasks

When a job requires repetitive movement, excessive use of the same muscles can lead to injury. Risk of MSDs can become even greater when repetitive tasks are coupled with other risk factors.

When workers are put into situations that cause improper posture, for example, and/or are exposed to forceful exertion, injury is more common. Putting ergonomic equipment in place to eliminate these risk factors will help. Employees should also rotate workstations and setup their stations to be ergonomically friendly. And management should train employees on how to do perform tasks in the most ergonomically safe manner.

The Power Zone

Jobs that require lifting heavy or awkward items can lead to MSDs, particularly when proper ergonomic equipment or practices are not put into place. When manual lifting is required, workers should be carrying items within the “Power Zone”. This is the part of the body just below your chest and above your belly button. Doing so allows workers to maintain a straight back and properly placed arms.

Placement of the hands and arms, when carrying objects, should also fall within the power zone, also known as the handshake zone. The forearm should be extended straight out from above the hip. When tasks are performed below or above the power zone it requires bending over or reaching. These motions, particularly when done repetitively, can lead to injury.

Temperature and Lighting

When the workplace is either too hot or too cold, a range of negative effects on the body can occur. Temperatures interfere with sensory feedback. Excessive heat can cause fatigue and cold can make hands numb. As a result a worker can misjudge the amount of force and strength required to perform tasks. This can lead to excess strain and trauma on muscles, joints, tendons and bones.

Lighting also plays a role in ergonomic safety. Dim lights can leads to headaches, fatigue, and eyestrain. These factors not only affect health, but they can lead to dangerous accidents. Bright light can cause stress and headaches from glare.

Lighting problems include insufficient light, improperly distributed light, constant flashing or flickering, glare from bright lights, and harsh contrast. To identify lighting issues that are not immediately apparent, talk to employees to identify any symptoms that may be in line with improper lighting. You can also have lighting levels measured and compared to recommended levels.

In Summary

Creating a workplace that is ergonomically safe and comfortable starts by identifying the risk factors. From there you can introduce the necessary ergonomic equipment and/or make adjustments that may include lighting and work positions. By doing so you’ll avoid injuries that can lead to long term employee health issues and a range of costs to the business.

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