After the common cold, do
you know what is the most common cause of lost work time and compensation in adults
under the age of 45? Lower back problems. Back injuries account for $126
billion in compensation and medical cost each year. You read that right, $126
billion, which is 0.9 percent of the U.S. national debt. One of the best
investments an employer can make to prevent both acute and chronic back injuries
is an effective ergonomics program.
The word ergonomic is derived
from two Greek words: ergon, meaning work, and nomoi, meaning natural laws, to
create a word that means the science of work and a person’s relationship to
that work. Simply, ergonomics means fitting the work environment to the worker.
The goal of an ergonomics program in industry is to adapt the workplace to a
specific worker, dependent on the job description, required tasks and physical make
up of the employee performing those tasks. Two types of situations typically
cause people to begin having back pain or to sustain a back injury while on the
• Non-accidental injury, where
pain arises as a result of normal activities and requirements of the task.
• Accidental injury when an
unexpected event triggers injury during the task. A load that slips or shifts
as it is being lifted, and a slip and fall or hitting one’s head on a cabinet door
are typical examples.
Here are some tips to help employees
avoid back pain and injury:
• Practice good posture. Good
body posture minimizes stress on the muscles, ligaments, bones and joints.
• Move. The healthy body can
only tolerate staying in one position for about 20 minutes. Holding the same
position slowly diminishes the elasticity in the soft tissues – muscle ligaments
and tendons in the back, then stress builds up and causes back discomfort and/ or
leg discomfort. Whether you’re sitting in an office chair or standing in a
line, change positions frequently.
• Use mechanical
assistance. Frequent or repetitive stretching to the end range of motion or
awkward, angled postures can bind the joints. Jobs that require frequent
repetitive motion can cause great discomfort. Such jobs involve lifting from
the floor, lifting overhead, moving bulky loads, using rotational force or
twisting while handling material, and which signal back injuries might be on
the way. When feasible, use mechanical equipment to avoid manual lifting.
• Size up the job. If you must
manually lift something, size up the job first. If the job is too big to handle
safely on your own, find someone to help you. When lifting, stand close to the
object, bend at the knees and keep your back straight. Lift with the muscles in
your arms, legs and abdomen, not your back. Hold the object close to your body
and never twist your back while handling a load. If you must turn, do so by
moving your feet.
• Get some rest. Fatigue from
sitting in an office chair for days, from work or from insomnia can make people
move more awkwardly. If one is overtired or feels fatigued, it is advisable to
avoid lifting heavy objects alone or quickly.
• Sit in your current chair
correctly. Many people sit toward the front of their chair and end up hunching
forward to look at their computer screen. The better seated posture is to sit
back in the office chair and utilize the chair’s lumbar support to keep the head
and neck erect.
• Rearrange your
workstation. Choose the surface height for the desk best for the task to be
performed. Adjust the seat of the office chair so the work surface is elbow
high. A fist should be able to pass easily behind the calf and in front of the
seat edge to keep the back of the legs from being pressed too hard and the feet
from swelling. Two fingers should slip easily under each thigh. If not, use a
couple of telephone books or a footrest to raise the knees level with the hips.
The backrest of the office chair should push the low back forward slightly. Fit
the height of the computer screen. Sit comfortably in the newly adjusted office
chair. Close both eyes and relax. Then, slowly reopen them. Where the gaze
initially focuses is the place to put the center of the computer screen. The
screen can be raised using books or a stand if needed.
• Assign a monitor. Assign a
person to announce times for micro breaks or remind workers to correct their
posture or lead group movement and stretching exercises.
By making small, but efficient changes, you could make
your workers more comfortable and their work more efficient. If you need more ergonomic
assistance contact the Garrison Safety Office at 785-240-0647 or
email firstname.lastname@example.org for ergonomic assessments, recommendations
and potential funding for workstation improvements for those who qualify.