There Are 3 Ergonomic Risk Factors - Do You Know What They Are?

Articles

Business woman with back pain because she ignored the ergonomic risk factor of poor posture

With ergonomics, there is no shortage of risks. But there are three big factors you should always be mindful of to stay injury free. These factors routinely cause fatigue or strain which can lead to injuries. Just one factor on its own or all three combined can cause injuries.  

Many people think office work when they hear the word ergonomics but manual work has a different set of ergonomic risk factors.
 

The Ergonomic Risk Factors That Can Cause Physical Injuries in Any Work Environment

Ergonomic injury impacts almost every industry; from an office worker sitting sedately at a desk to a manual worker on a construction site.   

The three main ergonomic risk factors for physical injuries in the workplace are:

  • sustained poor posture

  • repetitive tasks

  • forceful exertion  

All three of these risk factors can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). MSDs include things like repetitive stress injury, ergonomic injury, overuse syndrome and repetitive stress disorder. If you become aware of ergonomic risk factors in your workplace, notify your workplace health and safety team. Procedures and training should be put in place to educate employees about ergonomic risk factors and how they can be avoided or minimised.
 

#1 Sustained Poor Posture

Posture is usually the first thing that comes to mind when people think ergonomics. With good reason - poor posture is one of the biggest ergonomic risk factors.

Office workers are familiar with diagrams of how they should sit in front of a computer and setup their workstation. Most know they should adjust the height of their chair and monitor to suit their height and the way they work but don’t do it in practice. A poor or awkward posture can cause neck and back pain, spinal dysfunction, joint degeneration, and rounded shoulders.  

Poor posture causes deep supporting muscles to waste away. Unused muscles can tighten and shorten which can worsen posture.  

How to Avoid Sustained Poor Posture:

Undertake regular stretches and exercise to increase or even just maintain muscle flexibility, strength and tone. At your desk, don’t forget to stretch your neck and back muscles throughout the day. Use ergonomic furniture and equipment that encourages a healthy back and neck position.   

A man stretching at his desk. Taking a break from work to stretch can reduce the physical risk of sitting all day

Make sure you use furniture that meets the needs of your frame. If you are a little taller or shorter than the average person, you may need equipment specially designed for your size. For example, a tall person can’t use some sit stand desks because they don’t extend high enough and the standard office chair is too high for a petite-framed person.   
 

#2 Repetitive Tasks

Performing repetitive movements at work is another major ergonomic risk factor - doing the same movement over and over is risky.

Assembly workers installing the same component is one example of this ergonomic risk factor. But many other types of employees do repetitive work without realising. Known as Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS), it is an injury that impacts hands, wrists, fingers, and elbows. Overworked tendons become inflamed through keyboard work, packing, carpentry, bricklaying and instrument playing.     

How to Avoid Repetitive Tasks:

Try to plan your day so you aren’t doing the same task all day. It’s best to swap every few hours so, if you do data entry most of the day, try to break it up by doing a different task like filing in the middle of your day.  

A woman filing documents. Break up administrative tasks to reduce repetition and lower the risk of injury

Design the workstation to reduce the amount of bending, stretching or twisting. Everything you need to do your job should be within easy reach. Using ergonomic furniture and equipment can also reduce the chance of an injury causes by repetitive tasks.  
 

#3 Forceful Exertion

Movements that require workers to use forceful exertion is another important ergonomic risk factor. Force is the amount of effort needed to perform, resist or change a movement. Activities that require forceful exertion include tasks that involve bending, lifting, pushing and pulling heavy objects.

Forceful exertion can overload muscles, joints, tendons and discs. Lifting heavy loads or loads that are unbalanced or have a shifting centre of gravity such as partially filled containers of liquid can cause musculoskeletal injuries. Vibrating power tools can cause carpal tunnel and other hand injuries. Prolonged use of vibrating tools is not healthy and the risk should be monitored and controlled by limiting the amount of time they are used for.  

How to Avoid Forceful Exertion:  

Use correct technique such as bending your knees when lifting heavy loads or use a mechanical lift. Limit the number of lifts each worker does in a shift. If possible, change the layout of the workplace so that loads are moved the shortest possible distance.
 
A man using a jackhammer at work. Forceful exertion and vibrations from tools increase the risks of physical injury

To reduce the chance of injury, limit to two hours per day the time workers spend gripping powered and non-powered tools. Workers can also reduce the ergonomic hazard by changing tools regularly so their hands aren’t using the same grip or force for a long period. Any workers who are required to use forceful exertion should get training to learn about the risks and how to work safely.

To find out more about ergonomic risk factors in your workplace we recommend engaging a professional to conduct an ergonomic assessment.               

For more information about the range of quality ergonomic furniture and equipment available, visit the Ergolink showroom, call us on (08) 9240 7066 or contact us online for more personalised advice.