Ergonomics – Importance in the Workplace and Employer’s Responsibilities
Implementing Ergonomics in the workplace leads to maximum productivity while saving physiological and health-related costs to the organisation and the worker by reducing the risk of occupational injury or illness.
McCormick and Saunders (1993) explained ergonomics as the application of information about human behaviour, limitations and abilities to the design of machines, jobs, tasks, tools and the environment for safe, productive, effective and comfortable use. Ergonomics is the relationship between the worker and the job, or the tasks performed and focuses on designing work areas or tasks in a way that supports and improves performance.
Ergonomics includes studying the following aspects related to the workplace and/or tasks done by employees:
- Work environment, including physical demands like lifting or moving heavy objects; skill demands for example having to type a lot; and even time demands for example having to finish a certain task within a certain time period.
- Physical environment, including the presence of any chemical, physical and/or biological agents (for example heat, noise, air pollutants, airborne pollutants, etc.)
- Psychosocial environment, including social, cultural and lifestyle factors (for example working in teams, work and life balance, etc.)
- Technology, including product design, hardware and software interface design, etc.
Ergonomic Risk Assessment
Ergonomics relates to the relationship of employees, the tasks or jobs they must perform, the environments in which they work and the equipment they have to use on the job. An Ergonomic Risk Assessment helps you to understand and review the work design and systems present in your workplace. Conducting an Ergonomic Risk Assessment will also help you understand if you are complying with the legislative requirements in this area. The risk assessment will also include the identification of any ergonomic equipment requirements. While conducting the risk assessment, a competent assessor will be able to give on the spot advice to employees on the layout of their workstations, thereby reducing effect of bad posture and potential ill health. Environmental aspects like noise, temperature and lighting may also be evaluated while conducting this risk assessment.
A report including a detailed assessment of the work area and key recommendations must be prepared once the risk assessment has been completed. This report will help to reduce the likelihood of accidents on the job and will also focus the employer’s attention to the identified hazards.
Importance of Ergonomics in the Workplace
Workers across many occupations and industries are exposed to risk factors at the workplace such as working in wrong body postures, lifting heavy items, reaching overhead, bending, pushing and pulling heavy objects. These activities, if conducted in an incorrect manner, affect the muscular and nervous system causing Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs). A few examples of work-related MSDs are Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, back injuries, muscle strains, tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, etc. Work-related MSD’s are one of the most frequently reported causes of absenteeism and loss of work. These can, however, be prevented by applying ergonomics in the workplace.
Employees have a right to work in conditions that do not pose a serious harm to their health, safety and welfare. It is the employer’s responsibility and duty to ensure the employee’s safety, health and welfare at work, as far as is reasonably practicable, under Section 8 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. To ensure an effective workplace ergonomics process, the employer must:
- Provide and maintain a safe workplace, including a safe plant and safe equipment. Management must clearly state goals and objectives of the ergonomic process and assign responsibilities to designated staff members.
- Take workers’ input into consideration while conducting risk assessments and developing ergonomic processes.
- Training is an important aspect of applying an effective ergonomic process as it would ensure the employees are aware of the benefits and understand the importance of applied ergonomics at work.
- Encourage employees to report early MSD symptoms in order to control, reduce and eliminate work-related MSDs.
- Appoint a competent person as the company’s Safety Representative or Officer who conducts periodic evaluation of the ergonomic process for its long-term success and continuous improvement.
Ergonomics has been incorporated in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 and contains regulations dealing with manual handling of heavy objects and display screen equipment.