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Wednesday, June 2, 2004 Issue 2   VOLUME 4 ISSUE 6  
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Risk Communication: A critical strategy for managing occupant concerns in facilities
Ergonomics Can Significantly Impact Your Business
Prompt Response Helps Woods Hole Return to Business
Conserving Water used in Cooling Towers
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Ergonomics Can Significantly Impact Your Business
by Guy A. Fragala, Ph.D., P,E., C.S.P.

Recently, you may have heard the term ergonomics used in conversation, but do you really know what it means and how the concepts can be applied to help you in your business? Ergonomics is the science which attempts to optimize the design of objects, systems, and environment to ensure the best possible match for human use. Ergonomics affects everything which involves people. Work systems, sports and leisure, and health and safety should all embody ergonomics principles to minimize stress and reduce the risk of injury.

Occupational ergonomics involves designing jobs and job tasks to fit people and their limitations rather than expecting people to adapt to poor designs. These concepts sound like common sense, but we do not always find ergonomics optimally applied in the workplace. Recently ergonomics has been getting much attention in the occupational environment because of the large number of musculoskeletal injuries being suffered by workers. These injuries include strains and sprains of the back, and upper extremity disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Musculoskeletal injuries can be very costly. There are the direct costs, which include compensation paid to the injured worker and medical payments. There are also a number of indirect costs including replacement cost for injured workers, time spent by supervision and management, and decreased productivity. These examples, along with many other intangibles, add up to a much greater amount than the direct costs incurred. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in long-term patient healthcare institutions. A study conducted at the 1,200 employee Masonic Home and Hospital in Connecticut shows results that are typical when this type of institution implements an ergonomics program.

  Measure

 Pre-Intervention

 Post Intervention

 

 % Decrease

Annual Lost Work Days

1,025

81

92.1%

Injury Assessments Four Month Period

$174,412

$4,500

97.4%

Incurred Annual Workers’ Compensation Costs

$628,511

$142,995

77.2%

As our workforce ages, good design and the concepts of ergonomics are even more important. The aging workforce is less capable of withstanding physically demanding work and is more susceptible to these musculoskeletal injuries.

Today, ergonomists try to identify occupational risk factors present in jobs and job tasks and then minimize these risk factors before serious injuries occur. The basic risk factors to be concerned with are force, repetition, and posture. If a worker exerts too much force, they may be injured from overexertion. If a worker is required to do a task too many times during the course of the workday, these repetitions may overstress body parts and injury can result. When a person is working in an awkward posture, the body is working much harder and can become stressed at a more rapid rate. When all three risk factors are present in a job situation, a high occupational risk environment can result. In the healthcare environment, nurses, aides, and therapists are placed at risk of back injuries because of the need to lift and move dependent patients. In the manufacturing environment, when a worker must do a repetitive task and a significant amount of force is required, they may develop injuries in their shoulders, arms, and wrists.

A good ergonomics management program can prevent these disabling injuries. In addition to injury prevention, ergonomics provides many other value added benefits. In the world of industrial engineering, ergonomics has been used to improve the overall quality of the work environment. Effective application of the concepts of ergonomics has, in many cases, increased productivity.

Awareness of the need for ergonomics is growing and a good program can provide solid economic value. If you do not currently have an active ergonomics management program in place within your organization, you should strongly consider the benefits you can achieve from a relatively small investment.


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