ERGONOMICS

Ergonomics is the science of fitting jobs to people, including anatomy, physiology, and psychology.  Ergonomic design is the application of this body of knowledge to the design of the workplace (i.e., work tasks, equipment, environment) for safe and efficient use by workers.

Up to 85 percent of the population will suffer from musculoskeletal pain.  When workers sit incorrectly, specifically in a posture that is not ergonomically correct for the individual, they can experience musculoskeletal pain.  Because musculoskeletal pain is a major source of suffering, health care, and utilization of compensation, there is a definite need for prevention (2).

A large number of people suffer from musculoskeletal pain, making it a leading health-care problem. . .Musculoskeletal pain is a leading cause of health-care visits, particularly in primary care, sick absenteeism, and early pensions. . .Thus preventing disability and high-cost cases may result in large economic savings (2).

Until prevention is granted more resources, programs need to be relatively cheap; and this suggests incorporating them into existing practice routines (2).

A host of ergonomic factors have been found to be associated with musculoskeletal pain, such as lifting, heavy work, twisting, bending, manual handling, and repetitive work.

Studies have shown that people with herniated inter-vertebral discs often have a history of an activity or occupation involving repetitive forward bending.  Forward bending has been clearly recognized as a risk factor for low back pain (3).

The body posture of sedentary workers, especially in offices, and of school children has long been a concern of orthopedists and physiologists.  The increasing number of office positions, of seated factory workers, of people sitting in cars and airplanes, even of seated soldiers, has augmented the concern about “unhealthful” sitting postures.  Complaints about lower back pains are widespread among people who commonly work in the sitting position (4).

As a result of this very common pain and suffering, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has created a standard, 29 CFR Part 1910, which was first published on February 8, 2000, to explain the benefits of prevention of musculoskeletal disorders to both employers and employees.

OSHA expects its workable, practical approach to prevent an average of 460,000 injuries annually and to save businesses $9.1 billion annually because of reduced workplace injuries and greater productivity, with a $27,700 savings in direct costs for each musculoskeletal disorder prevented (1).

OSHA estimates that the cost to an employer to implement the new ergonomics approach will be an average of $250 per work station per year, or a total of $4.5 billion to industry per year.  This contrasts with business and industry groups that estimate it will cost U.S. businesses between $18 billion and $120 billion per year (1).

OSHA’s suggestions are as follows:

There should be management leadership and employee participation in your ergonomics program.

Management should identify and assess any hazards.

Employees should be trained to identify, prevent and control possible hazards through information and training.  Any ergonomics program you set up should also be evaluated for effectiveness.

REFERENCES:

  1. CBA Report, Cincinnati Bar Association, March, 2001:  “Is There Light at the End of the Carpal Tunnel?” written by Ann W. DeVoe, Esq.
  2. Textbook of Pain, 1998, “Prevention of Disability due to Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain,” written by Steven James Litton.
  3. Spine, Volume 21, Number 1, pp.71-78, 1996, “Analysis of Lumbar Spine and Hip Motion During Forward Bending in Subjects with and Without a History of Low Back Pain,” written by Marcia A. Esola, M.S., P.T.; Philip W. McClure, M.S., P.T.; G. Kelley Fitzgerald, M.S., P.T.; and Sorin Siegler, Ph.D., U.S.A.
  4. Industrial Medicine, Vol. 38, No. 4, April, 1969, Orthopedics, “Ergonomics in the Design of Office Furniture,” written by K. H. Eberhard Kroemer, Dr. Ing.; Joan C. Robinette, Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, Aerospace Medical Division, Wright-Paterson Air Force Base, Ohio.