Ergonomics in workplace Part 1. What does Ergonomics mean?
Ergonomics can be defined as the “fit” between workers and their environment. The science behind ergonomics is applied to workplace conditions and job demands in order to prevent ergonomic related injuries.
Essentially the application of ergonomics assists in making jobs safer, easier, and more comfortable for the employee and reduces the probability of mistakes incurred by considering human abilities and limitations and enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency with which work and other human based activities are carried out.
Thus from the definition and application of ergonomics the question thus becomes, how do we prevent or at minimum mitigate these ergonomic related injuries in the workplace?
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South Africa remains a country with most organizations still lacking progressive elements of integrated Health and Safety programs. Once such elusive element is that of ergonomics in the workplace. More often than not, employers question the necessity for Ergonomics in workplace, reasoning that the requirement for the practice is non-essential or ahead of the current industry or legislative requirements.
To an extent this may sound rational at first however it must also be considered that although South Africa is relatively classed as a Third World or developing country, it is still quite distinctive in the sense that most organizations are equipping to meet First World processes and technology.
Thus the impact of this supply to meet the demand need results in our labour intensive workforce exposing themselves to a wide range of ergonomic related injuries.
Part One of Exploring Ergonomics in the workplace focused on the variety of ergonomic related injuries, employees can experience.
Mitigation first begins with identification of the particular aspect, in this case, ergonomic related hazards. Part one of Exploring Ergonomics in the Workplace addressed the various ergonomic related injuries an employee can experience along with the possible causes, the medical impact, clinical symptoms and the industries/ occupations at risk. It also examined the mathematics behind the application of downward force when lifting objects.
Utilizing these methodologies one can complete the first phase of mitigation, Hazard identification. Once the hazards have been identified, they should be categorized as an applicable risk to the employee and quantified as such. This measurement of risk must then be subjected to the applicable mitigation criteria as per the Hierarchy of Controls and the residual risk once more quantified.
Lastly this residual risk must be monitored and applicable actions taken to correct arising non- compliances. The cycle flowing from identification of the hazard through to actions implemented to correct deviations must keep in line with the principals of the Deming Cycle
Identifying ergonomic hazards forms part of the overall Hazard identification and Risk Assessment activities each organization is mandated to conduct as per Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993.
A rule of thumb in this regards is to conduct the activity within a team and not alone. Incorporate Subject matter experts as well as the operators or workers as they can relate details of the ergonomic job aspect. The hazards identified must also retain a scientific context in their detection. To do this, employers must exploit the methodology of a workplace analysis. Workplace analysis is a method that provides identification of:
Existing Ergonomic hazards and conditions
Operations that create ergonomic hazards
Areas where potential ergonomic hazards may develop
The first task in conducting a workplace analysis to ascertain ergonomic hazards would be to review applicable documentation such as accident investigation reports, near miss observations and investigations as well as the most commonly missed document, the safe operations manual for respective machinery (Includes HAZOP Studies where applicable).
The next step would be to conduct planned task observations for employees conducting said tasks. This can be done in several ways, pertinent to the nature of the organization or the tasks conducted. One method would be to utilize a Work Instruction/ Safe Work Procedure or even a Standard operations.
Procedure (SOP) to create a checklist or the safe points to avoid ergonomic related injuries. This check list must then be applied to the employee conducting the task in as “real” of a setting as possible to obtain pure results of the test. A percentage of how Ergonomically safe the employee is working can then be ascertained by subtracting the non-checked points from the checked points and relating to a percentage out of 100. Some of the typical risk factors one can identify in most industries include improper lifting techniques, excessive repetition and prolonged activities.
Part two will be continued next week of Exploring Ergonomics in the workplace covering the methodology employers can utilize to mitigate ergonomic related hazards and decrease the residual risk of an ergonomic related injury.