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Ergonomic Risk Assessment
The human body encourages a specific posture and has muscles and joints which can become overstressed through repetition or overextension. Unfortunately, every job has actions which cause these types of problems. Injuries in the workplace are expected to a degree because it is impossible to determine every area that could cause an incident, but the science of ergonomics is used to act as a mitigating factor for some common injuries that could easily be eliminated with a simple assessment. Ergonomic risk assessments are completed as a specific look at the occupations in a particular workplace to determine the possible risks that exist and to find solutions to those issues. This paper discusses the common reasons for ergonomic assessments, their benefits, why they are not performed, and what one should include.
The literature on this subject is very clear in its description of a wide range of injuries that can be attributed to poor ergonomic equipment and processes. It must first be understood that ergonomic assessments do not just look at the equipment being used to perform an activity; it also looks at the activity to determine better ways to perform it. Ergonomics is both a determination of how the work is done and the tools it takes to complete a function.
Reasons for Assessments
For the business world, a primary concern is how much a particular event costs. To this end, many studies have focused on how much time and money is lost because of workplace injuries. According to Brandenburg and Mirka (2005), industrial engineering professors at North Carolina State University;
"The motivation for ergonomics intervention research stems from statistics of the number and cost of recordable workplace injuries and from literature that has shown that ergonomic solutions can be effective countermeasures. Repetitive motion and overexertion illnesses/injuries cost industry an estimated $13 to $20 billion, and much of this cost is attributable to lost workdays."
That is not money lost over a period of a decade or of even five years, but the cost of injuries and lost work days per year. This significant cost to businesses requires that a solution be attempted. One expert takes the economic argument to an even more personal level when he says "The difference between a not very good chair and a really good chair is about another $300 & #8230; Compared to a single injury -- one carpal tunnel syndrome case can cost upward of $100,000 -- that investment is trivial" (Winter, 2007). The economic cost, then, of a single incident of either a repetition or injury caused by overextension can be enormous. The hospital bills, time lost due to the injury, cost of paying a temporary worker to fill that slot, possible legal fees, and others can lead to staggering bills for firms small and large.
Besides the economic effects of workplace injuries are the people costs. Lost time means lost expertise. Many occupations that require a person to have an injury that results from lifting or carrying, require a level of education that is not easy to replace at short notice. Nurses fall into this category because they are often tasked with moving patients, and this activity, because of both repetition and overextension, can cause trauma to the lower back, shoulders, legs and arms. One study notes that "Nurses have been identified in the top ten ranked occupations for work-related musculoskeletal disorders" (Powell-Cope, Hughes, Sedlak & Nelson, 2008). Nurses are trained in how they can best transport patients without harming themselves in the process, but real world extremes mean that they are often not able to rely on the processes that are taught in the classroom. Because these types of injuries often require that a nurse be off work for an extended period of time, many interventions have been developed which offer some relief, but it seems that nothing can completely eliminate the problem.
Without a doubt the benefit that companies see as the primary reason to implement ergonomic assessments is the cost of not doing so. The costs are a consideration, but chronic injury, which can permanently disable a person, is another. A research states that "Employers are always faced with balancing efficiency and productivity with safety and comfort. Good ergonomic assessment and remedial design can ensure both" (Adeyemi, 2010). Employee are more satisfied at work if they believe that management believes that employee health is a priority, and show it by providing equipment that will reduce injuries.
Why They are Not Performed
The main reason that they are not performed is because employers erroneously believe that they will save money and production time by not conducting the assessment. The statement above from Adeymei (2010) talks about an employer's need to balance factors that affect the workplace. If the employer decides that a more comfortable chair, a keyboard designed to mimic correct hand position or a change in process which will eliminate some issues with overextension are too expensive, then they may not do them. However, what they are not taking into consideration is the long-term coast of the decision. An employer wants to make money for their shareholders, and does that by not only producing a product that the public wants, but also by cutting costs of production. Even a well-meaning employer might look at the initial cost of a change and determine that it is too costly. This does not mean that the employer necessarily does not care about the workers, but it does show that they are not thinking about the ultimate cost of the decision. Because repetitive and overextension injuries take a long time to develop, one decision that nullifies a better ergonomic environment may end up costing the company millions of dollars in the long run.
What Assessments Should Include
The assessment depends on the particular job or industry in which it is to be performed. However, a full assessment of the ergonomic work conditions that employees see is the best solution according to the research. Adeyemi (2010) states that "Every workstation should be designed with both the worker and the task in mind, so that work can be performed comfortably, smoothly, and efficiently." This is echoed in the research done for nursing assessments, but the study is a little more thorough. It states, in part, that
"interventions with the strongest level of evidence for safe patient handling that reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injury among nurses include:
patient care ergonomic assessment protocols use of patient handling equipment/devices clinical tools, such as algorithms and patient assessment protocols to aid in implementation
no manual lift policies once all other program components are in place" (Powell-Cope, et al., 2008).
It can be seen with these results that these types of assessment are necessary for most job classifications. The literature consistently agrees that ergonomic assessments are both underused and necessary.
The method used for this study is a review of the literature that looks at how ergonomic assessments are performed and how they can benefit people in different occupations.
A further review of the related literature revealed that the injuries incurred from causes that could be solved by a simple ergonomic assessment are not being attended by organizations. "The National Council on Compensation Insurance, the high cost of workplace injuries is reported as
Avg. Cost/Claim ($)
% of Claims
(Environmental Safety, 2012).
This reveals that cumulative (or repetitive) injuries and back strain (caused by overextension) account for 32% of injury claims and cost an average of $24,080.06 per claim. Since these claims, especially for back strain are common, this proves…[continue]
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