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Tips on Ergonomics in the Workplace

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It’s hard to do your best work when you hurt. A poorly designed workspace can cause pain and repetitive motion injuries in any occupation. For example, you can damage muscles, tendons, nerves, ligaments and blood vessels, causing conditions such as back or neck pain, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome or other musculoskeletal disorders. Whether you’re a grocery checker, a nurse or an office worker, it’s important to understand how to use your body, how to adjust equipment to minimize strain and how to prevent injuries. Your employer may even have an ergonomics program; if so, take advantage of the expert advice offered.

Making the Workplace Fit

Ergonomics is the science of making the workplace fit the worker. The goal of an ergonomic consultation is to arrange or adjust equipment so that your posture is correct and your joints are in neutral alignment. If you are tall, you need a chair adjusted differently than someone who is short -- you have a longer reach and need more leg room. A carpenter should have a hammer that is the right weight for the job. An ergonomic adviser can teach you how to use your body correctly and strengthen muscles to prevent injury. You should also learn how to stretch your muscles during the workday.

Office Ergonomics

Although ergonomics can be applied to any workplace, office ergonomics is a specialized branch of the field that focuses on office work in general and computers in particular. The desk and computer monitor must be at the correct height and all items should be within within easy reach. Some postures cause strain, such as cradling a phone between the ear and shoulder while typing or writing. A headset can minimize this problem. Even in an office environment, workers may need to lift boxes of supplies or files, which increases the risk of back injuries.

Prevention Better than Cure

Ideally, an ergonomics evaluation should be performed whenever someone assumes a new job. It is much easier to prevent repetitive motion injury than to deal with the injury after it occurs. Sitting without back support, for example, can stress the back and neck muscles. Sitting for long periods can also cause stress, so a truck driver should periodically get out and walk around for a few minutes. Nurses often lift or move patients and equipment; they should be taught how to perform these tasks correctly and to work as a team to prevent one person from lifting out of sequence with the others. Ask your manager or human resources department for assistance in this area.

What You Can Do

You can help yourself avoid workplace injuries. Correct posture is important in any job. If you slouch, for example, it pulls your spine out of alignment and puts stress on your muscles, tendons and ligaments. Organize your work area so that the tools you use most frequently are within arm’s reach. Never lift something with your arms fully extended and use your leg muscles when lifting. Take frequent stretch breaks. Follow a regular exercise program outside the workplace to keep your muscles strong and flexible. If you experience chronic pain, check with your human resource department about an ergonomic evaluation.