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Learn to Identify and Manage Ergonomic Risk Factors in the Workplace

Ergonomic Risk Factors in the WorkplaceWork-related injuries are a common problem and cost the nation millions of dollars every year. Usually the result of overuse, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are inflammatory and degenerative conditions that affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, and blood vessels. Almost every job comes with certain ergonomic risk factors and learning to identify them is crucial to reduce stress, and avoid injury and lost productivity.

Whether you are in a desk job or one that involves heavy physical activity, ergonomics is a crucial factor in maintaining physical wellness. Ergonomics is maintained when the job is designed to fit the worker. Workplace ergonomic risk factors that cause painful musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include awkward postures, bending, lifting, forceful exertions, insufficient rest breaks, pushing or pulling, repetitive motions, and static or sustained postures. Here are some common examples of WMSDs:

  • Repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • Tenosynovitis
  • Back pain
  • Rotator cuff injuries (affects the shoulder)
  • Epicondylitis (affects the elbow)
  • Trigger finger
  • Upper limb disorders
  • Muscle strains
  • Foot and ankle injuries

Job activities involving any of these ergonomic risk factors increase the chances of strain and injury. For instance, take computer and office workers. They are exposed to risks such as poor or awkward posture due to a badly designed workstation, typing for long hours without a break, and repetitive motions. On the other hand, healthcare workers have to perform activities such as bending and lifting while handling patients that can, over time, affect body mechanics.

The good news is that WMSDs can be prevented if you listen to the signals that your body is sending out. Here are some things that you can do to protect yourself:

  • If you have pain in the wrists or hands after typing for a long time, examine your work station and work practices to see if they are causing the problem. If they are, make adjustments. For instance, raising or lowering your chair could help you avoid typing with your wrists at an awkward angle.
  • If your job involves repetitive tasks or even sitting for long hours, take frequent breaks. Get up and walk around – experts say that this will break up the negative physiological changes that sitting can cause.
  • Always use proper lifting techniques. Mayo Clinic recommends that the right way to lift an object from the floor is to kneel, rest one knee on the floor, let your legs do the work, keep your back straight and avoid twisting. Caregivers should also use the right techniques when lifting and positioning patients.
  • The best way to avoid repetition is switching your routine by rotating jobs that use different muscle groups.
  • Many experts recommend stretching frequently. Workplace stretching and warm-up exercises help prevent MSDs.

Maintain a healthy body weight and active lifestyle and exercise regularly to strengthen your muscles and build endurance. These small but significant modifications can make a big difference to the way you work and your health.

WMSDs develop gradually. Early intervention is essential to quick recovery and long-term prevention of these disorders.  So if you think you have a work-related injury, find and contact your nearest rehabilitation center for timely diagnosis and care.

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