CXO

Ergonomic issues: Prepare for OSHA's new rules

OSHA is planning to unleash its guidelines for ergonomics in the workplace at the end of the year—and employees will be able take time off for work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Is your work environment ergonomically sound and OSHA-compliant?


Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) happen when a person repeats the same movement over and over. Employees who work in awkward positions, like IT workers slumped in ill-fitting chairs, pounding away at keyboards and mousing late into the night, are more likely to develop these repetitive stress disorders.

What can training managers do to combat these workers’ woes and make sure training rooms are designed correctly? Ergonomics is the answer. Dictionary.com defines ergonomics as the “applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort. Also called biotechnology, human engineering, human factors engineering.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines it a little more simply, describing it as “the science of fitting the job to the worker.” The organization offers training materials about ergonomics on its site, including scientific information and examples of workplace solutions.

Does your organization meet OSHA standards?
OSHA conducts ongoing research into ergonomic issues and plans to release ergonomic standards for workplace safety at the end of this year. We gave you the heads-up about this in “How OSHA's ergonomics proposal could affect you.” The article details employers’ responsibilities under OSHA’s proposal, stating that businesses that adopt the standards would have to:
  • Assign someone to head an ergonomics program.
  • Inform employees of the risk of injuries and warning signs, while encouraging them to report such injuries.
  • Establish a system for employees to report injuries.

Employers would have a “quick-fix” period of 90 days to implement changes to correct individual problems.

TechRepublic’s ergonomic offerings
TechRepublic has offered several articles that may help you get a jump on the OSHA standards. Read “Attention all computer users: Protect your wrists” to glean tips on “beating the malady of the information age” from The American Physical Therapy Association. If you are planning to buy new workstations or equipment, you may want to read “Office furniture that doesn't hurt—starting with your chair,” and “Office furniture that doesn't hurt: Desks.” Hal Glatzer shares the expert’s guidelines to making sure your environment is conducive to a productive and low-injury workday.

And let’s not forget our students. If you want students to come back to your facility again and again, read Schoun Regan’s article “Don't overlook the importance of proper ergonomics in your training rooms.” He offers a checklist for making sure your classrooms are up to snuff and shares good reasons why you should give your students the ergonomic advantage:

“Your trainers teach every day, and they usually receive an evaluation on their methods from the students. If the students are uncomfortable, they will not be in the best mood come evaluation time. Their discomfort will affect their evaluation and thus affect the trainer, which in turn affects you ...” and your bottom line.

Ergonomic solutions can save money—be proactive
Speaking of the bottom line, there are some relatively easy ways to counteract or even prevent fatigue, backache, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other common musculoskeletal disorders. If you haven’t gotten any complaints about any aches or pains yet, don’t wait! You’ll save money by making your employees and customers happier, healthier, and more productive.

You’ll also run less risk of paying for employees’ time off to heal from on-the-job injuries. OSHA’s guidelines will stipulate that workers who take time off to recover from these injuries will receive 90 percent of their pay and 100 percent of their benefits while off work.

More resources: Ergonomics on the Web
Ergonomics.org is a Web site “dedicated to the exchange of information between the fields of ergonomics and the Alexander Technique.” Developed in the early 20th century before ergonomics was a recognized science, the Alexander Technique is an educational method that teaches people how to avoid harmful work habits. The site offers many links regarding the technique including the full text of “Applying Ergonomic Principles in the Workplace: How the Alexander Technique can Help“ by Holly A. Sweeney.

Office Ergonomics offers organized applicable information about ergonomics. The site provides a checklist to pinpoint problems, with solutions for each, and a "Conventional Wisdom" vs. Current Ergonomics area that summarizes new research in office ergonomics. Another standout section, Ergonomic products: pros and cons, details some drawbacks or possibilities for misuse of office accessories and furniture.

A quick trip to virtually any search engine is sure to provide even more links to sites about ergonomics and associated products. Just remember to have your wrists, elbows, and feet in the proper position while surfing for more information!
What remedies have you found for preventing injuries? Do you have an ergonomic product to recommend? We want to hear from you! Send us your comments and suggestions or post your thoughts below.

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