We've all heard of the many different hazards in the workplace - from electrical hazards and working from heights, to slips and trips. However, not as many people can spot an ergonomic hazard. Ergonomic hazards contributed to injury and musculoskeletal disorders that made up 90% of serious workers compensation claims in 2014–15.
What is an Ergonomic Hazard in the Workplace?
According to Comcare, ‘ergonomic hazards are physical factors in the environment that may cause musculoskeletal injuries.’
Examples of Ergonomic Hazards
Below are some common ergonomic hazards found in Australian workplaces.
#1 Workstations Not Designed to Suit the Individual Worker
Many organisations buy the same chair, desk and monitor setup for every worker. This system does not take into account the different body shapes of employees or any pre-existing injuries they may have. Furthermore, the different tasks that employees may be required to perform are not given enough attention, which results in equipment purchases that may not always be the most suitable.
For example, a worker who is shorter than the average adult may benefit from a petite chair and footrest, whereas an employee who is much taller than average may need a height adjustable desk to give them more room for their legs under the desk. An adjustable height monitor stand or arm will help make sure they aren’t working hunched over the screen.
#2 Manual Handling
Many jobs still require workers to push, pull and lift heavy objects throughout their shift. If workers aren’t given the right training in safe handling practices or they don’t have the right aids, they risk a serious musculoskeletal injury. Workers are at greater risk if the duties of their job involve:
Exposure to vibration
High or sudden force
#3 Poor Lighting
Poorly lit workplaces can lead to a range of increased risks. Inadequate lighting can cause trips and falls, mistakes due to difficulty reading instructions, muscular injuries, eye strain and fatigue. If overhead lighting isn’t adequate, some workers may need desk lighting.
Excessive lighting can also contribute to poor worker health including headaches, migraines, accidents due to excessive glare and poor sleep at night caused by a disruption in cidarda patterns from bright light in the late afternoon.
#4 Excessive Noise
Whether it’s constant noise or short, sharp bursts of loud noise, it’s an ergonomic hazard. Noise-related hearing loss is a significant occupational health safety concern. It’s not just permanent hearing loss that can result from noise in the workplace. Workers complain of headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and stress from a range of different workplace noises.
#5 Poor Workstation Design
The way the office and workstations are designed has an impact on the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. The consequences of a poor workstation setup can be long-lasting.
There are many aspects to a workstation that can either increase or decrease your risk of injury. Workers who are on the phone and type with both hands will use their shoulder to hold the phone’s handpiece, risking a shoulder or neck injury. A much safer option is to use a headset, so they can be hands-free while talking on the phone. Shelves that are up too high and holding heavy files can cause a shoulder injury as they are taken on and off the shelf. Glare on monitors can occur when insufficient blinds are used on office windows. Finally, a lack of storage can cause materials to be left on the ground, risking a trip injury. Designing workstations around the tasks employees undertake and the way they work can significantly reduce the risk of injury in the workplace.
#6 Air Quality
Workers are more aware of the risks associated with poor air quality today than they have been in the past. Fumes, dust and tiny particles in the air that workers breathe in each workday are cause for workers’ lung health in the short and long term. Workers need the right masks to protect their airways when working with dangerous airborne particles. In some workplaces, air purifiers are used to remove contaminants from the air to improve air quality issues.
Support for Your Organisation
Ideally, ergonomic hazards are considered and eliminated during the planning stage of a workplace fitout. However, the good news is that most hazards in the workplace can be rectified at any stage to reduce the risks to employee health.
Call us on 9240 7066 or contact us online to discuss any concerns you may have about poor ergonomics at your organisation and what can be done to fix them.