Finding Solutions to work-related musculoskeletal injury and discomfort

sewing machine operatorSince 1987, the UCLA-LOSH Program has trained thousands of workers and supervisors in office ergonomics, primarily working through joint labor management health and safety committees of such unions as the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Teachers.

LOSH has also provided consultation to local labor unions on the development of health and safety contract language for computer operators. Trainees gain information on musculoskeletal, visual, and other problems associated with computer use. They learn to recognize early symptoms of computer related disorders, and they gain new skills in designing and adjusting computer workstations.

LOSH has partnered with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union Local 3090 to teach basic ergonomic awareness to 3,200 Los Angeles City office workers and a train-the-trainer course for a sub-group of 120 peer health advisors who will coach their co-workers on proper ergonomic techniques for setting up and adjusting their work stations.

How LOSH Can Help

LOSH will provide sample checklists as well as referrals to helpful websites, persons, and organizations that can assist you with assessing your job site and work tasks for ergonomic hazards. In some circumstances as a fee-for-services, we can study your worksite by doing walk through assessments and/or training in basic office ergonomics. Please note that LOSH is not an inspection or enforcement agency.

The walk through assessments will provide insight on tailoring a training to your worksites needs if your organization, group, factory, field, site requests a training. A walk through is not always required; however, it is helpful in evaluating the work performed and the tools and equipment used.

LOSH can provide hands-on training and/or awareness sessions for employees. If your group is interested in sustaining a long term health and safety program, LOSH will provide an ergonomics training to a team of designated leaders to serve as Health Promoters in the work place. We can also assist your department or organization in developing a health and safety plan or ergonomics program.

What is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the process of fitting the job to the worker — instead of the worker to the job. Ergonomics matches the design of tools, controls, & equipment to fit the safety needs of the operator. Since each of us has different needs, ergonomic design of tools, equipment and workspaces must be adjustable enough to accommodate a varied range of body types. For example, tools such as scissors must be designed in order to accommodate individuals who are right-handed or left-handed. UCLA-LOSH specifically addresses the field of workplace ergonomics, which examines the impact that tools, positions, repetitive movements, and the tasks of workers have on workers’ health and safety.

Why Ergonomics?

The mission of ergonomics is to provide solutions to work related pain and discomfort. However, there are also some additional benefits to implementing a culture of ergonomics into your workplace. Ergonomics training and awareness may save money. Yearly, workers across America file worker’s compensation claims due to workplace injuries.

Second, ergonomics prevents injuries, including back injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, work related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSD), and other injuries that can occur as a result of highly repetitive and physically demanding job tasks.

Third, when workers and employers prioritize health and safety and are aware of ergonomic principles, productivity is enhanced. Workers learn to analyze their work as well as listen to red flags such as slouching in chair, dry eyes, loss of concentration, or tingling sensations. In a win-win situation for the employer and employee where money is saved, injuries are prevented, and productivity is increased, the altruistic objective is that workers will experience job satisfaction.

Common Problems and Solutions

Common wear and tear areas are regions of the body where workers frequently experience pain or discomfort are the back, neck, shoulders, hands, wrists, to name a few.

When workers are exposed to hazards such as repetitive motion or stationary positions, there are avenues for alleviating pain and/or discomfort. For example, workers can add recovery time to their bodies by taking mini-breaks. Recovery time is a period of rest for your muscles, tendons, and nerves, and eyes. Recovery time is the length of rest between exertions. Short work pauses can reduce discomfort. Inadequate rest periods between exertions can decrease performance. As the duration of the uninterrupted work increases, so does the amount of recovery time needed.

Mini-breaks, generally less than one minute, are several short breaks interspersed throughout the day. Mini-breaks provide a rest for your body, especially visually demanding tasks, prolonged sitting, standing, bending tasks. Mini-breaks help reduce fatigue and may improve your concentration. To take a mini-break, engage in another activity other than the one that your attention is focused on. For example, if you have been starring at the computer for more than one hour, you may want to walk to the mail room, or do filing.

Another activity workers may incorporate to improve ergonomics is to make adjustments. Workers can make adjustments to their posture, bending, lifting, techniques. Workers can also modify their tools, or how they use their tools and equipment. LOSH can teach you and your coworkers how to incorporate strategies to feel good and not put your body under undue stress while working.

Is Ergonomics Right for You?

Depending on what is entailed in your job, ergonomics may be for you. Ergonomics trainings, awareness, and programs should especially be considered if workers are engaged in:

  • Repetitive work such as sweeping in custodial work, typing in clerical work, and lifting in childcare or adult care for those that work as nurses aides, for example.
  • Reaching such as stretching arms above head to pick fruit in farm work.
  • Bending and twisting such as stocking shelves in grocery and retail stores.

Not all occupations will expose workers to ergonomic hazards; however, there are other risk factors, or work place elements that could cause pain and injury to an employee. To name a few:

  • Vibrations experienced by bus drivers.
  • Chemical hazards such as refinery workers who may be exposed to hazardous fumes or spills.
  • Biological hazards such as home health care aides who are exposed to human blood or other body fluids.
  • Heat or cold stress exposure to construction workers.
  • Noise and hearing conservation for construction workers.