Thursday, April 3, 2014
Ergonomics and Injury Prevention
Ergonomics. The word reminds you of something involving oddly shaped chairs or soft keyboards. Or perhaps it sounds like something nice to have but maybe not that not necessary. But nothing could be further from the truth. Employing ergonomics is essential to prevent injuries and keep your staff working at peak performance, as well as following OSHA guidelines.
What is ergonomics and just how does it prevent injury? Let’s start with a look at ergonomics itself and take a body-improving look from there.
Ergonomics means planning, designing and evaluating equipment and environment to maximize productivity and reduce discomfort and weariness. Healthy design means healthy bodies, in other words.
From the standpoint of OSHA requirements and workplace compliance, there are no specific regulations. But intent exists - the intent that an employer has an obligation to keep a workplace free from hazards. Those hazards, as defined under the General Duty Clause, include ergonomic ones.
In short, although no specific regulations exist, OSHA can and will cite for ergonomic hazards. The idea being that employers should find and use equipment and procedures that will eliminate or at least reduce ergonomic hazards. That’s perhaps a little vague, and from the compliance standpoint, your practice may need a little help with defining compliance in this regard. If so, MedTrainer is here to help, with a full understanding of just what OSHA is looking for, ergonomically speaking, that is.
So what are those ergonomic hazards, exactly? We’re looking at what the Center for Disease Control notes as the potential for musculoskeletal disorders - back, wrist, elbow, shoulder injuries caused by workplace functions such as exertion, repetition, or awkward postures. Carefully designed work space, work space furnishings, and work breaks can eliminate or reduce many of these.
In the health care arena, ergonomics basically covers work situations that can cause operator injuries through fatigue or discomfort. Common injuries include those to hands, wrist, arms, and legs. After all, many health care industry jobs necessitate being on your feet for long periods of time, lifting patients or assisting them, lifting heavy objects, or data entry work that strains wrists and hands with repeated typing functions.
Ergonomics is an important tool to employ to prevent injuries and create a more positive workspace - as well as to adhere to OSHA regulations. Keeping your staff healthy also benefits you in terms of a more productive work place, less downtime, and less medical care costs.
Let’s look at what happens if successful ergonomics are not employed. If a person is working in a way that isn’t ergonomically friendly, it can create stress throughout the body. In turn, that stress, whether created through awkward positions, lifting strain, working in extreme temperatures of hot or cold, or utilized repetitive movements as with data entry, the stress can cause initial problems that lead to more permanent issues. In other words, discomfort, strain, fatigue, or pain in the short term can cause musculoskeletal disorders. The goal of ergonomics is to prevent these problems in a several common ways.
In regard to office work, surface heights can be adjusted to prevent or lessen bending. Phone handsets can be replaced with headsets to reduce neck strain. Readjusting a computer work station can reduce uncomfortable positions that create bent wrists when using keyboard or mouse.
The purpose of office ergonomics is to set up office space so that it fits the employee and the job her or she is doing. With a correctly set work station, employees will be less likely to experience neck or back pain, headaches, eye strain, tendonitis or bursitis. These can all be caused by a work space where repetitive functions are performed and ergonomic thought is lacking. Poor ergonomics can lead to injury and illness that cost time and money - for staff and employers, as well as affecting job performance.
Office ergonomics often help staff work more comfortably, which not only reduces injury from awkward positions and repeated tasks, but helps them lower stress, too. Look at the position of the workstation, the type of movements made repeatedly, temperature, light, and noise in the work area.
The idea of successful ergonomics is to make the work place both more safe and more efficient. The end result is improved employee health, reduced chance of OSHA fines, and company
success due to less turn over and more comfortable employees.
Nursing assistants who must lift heavy patients or stand for long periods of time without a break have different ergonomic challenges to overcome. Back aches and tired feet can lead to long term injuries to the back. Practicing proper lifting techniques, and reporting discomfort before it turns into an injury are key techniques to alleviate long term issues. Because this work can be mentally stressful as well as physically strenuous, it’s also important to allow break time and rest periods - it will help prevent injuries and make staff more relaxed, and more capable with patient handling.
A rested staff mentally and emotionally creates a sounder staff physically. Risky situations can be avoided and fatigue related injuries diffused before they occur.
Regardless of the type of ergonomics program required to improve work conditions, a commitment to discussion with staff is important to resolve issues and prevent them collaboratively.
So how do you become ergonomic? Many solutions are relatively simple, and all are designed to reduce bodily strain and fatigue, whether it’s caused by lifting, body position, or uncomfortable temperature or vibrations.
With medical assistants of all kinds, medical staff, and nurses and nursing assistants at the top of OSHA’s list for ergonomic hazards, it’s vitally important for medical practices of all kinds, whether hospitals, medical or dental offices, or pharmaceutical work situations, to address issues before they become serious problems.
Not only does this benefit employees and employee health, but it will help staff to be both more efficient and more productive, and will prevent mistakes on the job. With less fatigue and discomfort, focus and successful outcomes rise. Also, fewer injuries means less sick days, or employees who can not fully complete tasks at their standard level. Health insurance use and workers comp claims will also drop.
And your practice will be happier, too. Healthy, pain free staff members equals better morale and productivity, increased staff retention, and reduced turn over. All of these are the natural result of
healthier, safe, and pain free employees.
Of course OSHA plays into this dynamic too. OSHA citations can arise if you are not correctly utilizing ergonomics in your practice. Ergonomics, as previously noted, are referred to in OSHA’s General Duty Clause. And it is through this clause that large fine can be levied, pertaining to musculoskeletal disorders. When these disorders occurred bacuse companies failed to reduce risk of injury for their workers, fines are steep indeed.
Improving workplace ergonomics continues to be an on going concern, that when properly addressed as a priority reduces injuries and benefits both staff and the workplace.
The bottom line: ergonomics in the workplace should be dealt with proactively, analyzing
issues, responding quickly to employee complaints or concerts, and using quantitative tools to focus on job conditions before injuries happen.
Companies with effective ergonomics in place look at it as a process, one that collaboratively engages staff and management alike across an organization, providing a logical way to determine issues and get improvement, quickly and efficiently.
While ergonomics programs once depended on site "experts," making each employee and supervisor accountable is a critical element of successfully addressing ergonomics as a process.
New processes and equipment are integrated into the environment organically, to eliminate risk factors as much as possible, whether it is through adjustable work stations and chairs, staff training, self-assessments, or built in work breaks.
Regardless of the tools you utilize, working with ergonomics is an essential way to provide a safe and healthy environment, and help your practice to thrive.
If you’re not sure how to proceed with ergonomic appraisal and utilization, or what OSHA requires in specific situation, MedTrainer’s team of experts can help you find out.