Ergonomic assessments are one of the most successful methods for preventing injuries and assisting injured workers with their recovery.
An ergonomic assessment involves a review of the work or home environment to identify if a worker is at risk of injury due to a poor person-environment fit.
The Effects of Poor Ergonomics
Poor ergonomic practices contribute to musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. Musculoskeletal disorders include inflammatory and degenerative conditions affecting muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, and supporting blood vessels. There are over 100 syndromes and diseases related to musculoskeletal disorders.
Due to the progressive nature, there can be signs for weeks, months or even years before an injury or disorder occurs. Signs and symptoms can include dull aching or sharp stabbing pain in fingers or wrists, tingling or numbness, muscle tightness, cramping and discomfort, motion loss, swelling or inflammation and loss of muscle function or weakness.
Repeated exposure to risk factors means the body can’t heal itself. Non-work activities and the home environment can also contribute to musculoskeletal disorders.
What is Involved in an Ergonomic Assessment?
The three main workplace ergonomic risk factors include high task repetition, forceful exertion, and repetitive/sustained and awkward postures. Therefore, it is not enough to just analyse the workstation and set up, a holistic assessment is needed of a worker’s full role.
A thorough assessment considers other factors which can contribute to injury risk including:
- Cognitive demands – the level of attention and memory needed to complete a task.
- Work tasks – the type of work and how repetitive it is.
- Work pace and practices – the speed of work and how it’s completed.
- Aids and appliances – the materials currently available to an employee to assist with completing tasks.
- Vehicles, machinery and equipment – which are used regularly and their potential for for exposing a worker to risk factors.
- Environmental factors such as lighting, temperature control and noise are also considered during an ergonomic assessment.
Ergonomic assessments should be conducted by professional exercise physiologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.
When are Ergonomic Assessments Used?
Most employees don’t know the correct practices for working ergonomically. Even if they had some ergonomic training in previous years, some workers can forget or slip into bad habits over time.
An ergonomic assessment may be used to:
- Identify potential risk factors in a workplace and stop injuries occurring.
- Assist an injured worker return to work so that their workstation or duties don’t cause them pain or aggravate the injury.
- Ascertain if a workstation is ergonomically weak and contributing to an employee’s pain.
- Assess a home office to ensure the environment is safe and ergonomically designed for work.
In any of these scenarios, an assessment ensures the employer is meeting their duty of care.
What Changes are Made After an Assessment?
A report is prepared after the assessment for the employer and employee which may make some recommendations including:
- Simple changes to make the workplace suit the worker better
- Better use of current tools and equipment to improve the ergonomics of the workplace
- The purchase of new tools or equipment to help prevent an injury or reduce the likelihood of aggravating an existing injury.
For more information, see Ergonomics – Risk Assessment and Evaluation. If you would like one of our qualified occupational therapists to conduct an ergonomic assessment for your organisation, call PeopleSense by Altius on 1300 307 912 or contact us online.