Workplace Ergonomics

Sept. 30, 2003
NIOSH Provides Steps to Minimize Musculoskeletal Disorders
The elements of an effective ergonomics program comprise a seven-step “pathway.” The seven steps are as follows: 1. Look for signs of a potential musculoskeletal problem in the workplace: Company OSHA Form 200 logs or workers’ compensation claims show cases of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs).Certain jobs or work conditions cause worker complaints of undue strain, localized fatigue, discomfort, or pain that does not go away after overnight rest.Job tasks involve activities such as repetitive and forceful exertions; frequent, heavy, or overhead lifts; awkward work positions; or use of vibrating equipment.2. Show management’s commitment in addressing possible problems and encourage worker involvement in problem-solving activities.Management commitment can be expressed in a variety of ways (policy statements, meetings, goals, committing resources, compensatory arrangements, dissemination of information, and evaluative measures).Worker involvement in safety and health issues means obtaining worker input on several issues. The first input is defining real or suspected job hazards. Another is suggesting ways to control suspected hazards. A third involves working with management in deciding how best to put controls into place.3. Offer training to expand management and worker ability to evaluate potential musculoskeletal problems.For ergonomics, the overall goal of training is to enable managers, supervisors, and employees to identify aspects of job tasks that may increase a worker’s risk of developing WMSDs, recognize the signs and symptoms of the disorders, and participate in the development of strategies to control or prevent them. 4. Gather data to identify jobs or work conditions that are most problematic, using sources such as injury and illness logs, medical records, and job analyses. Early reporting allows corrective measures to be implemented before the effects of a job problem worsen. Inspecting the logs of injuries and illnesses required by OSHA and plant medical records can yield information about the nature of WMSDs, as can workers’ compensation claims, insurance claims, absentee records, and job transfer applications.5. Identify effective controls for tasks that pose a risk of musculoskeletal injury and evaluate these approaches once they have been instituted to see if they have reduced or eliminated the problem. A three-tier hierarchy of controls is widely accepted as an intervention strategy for controlling workplace hazards, including ergonomic hazards. The three tiers are as follows: Reducing or eliminating potentially hazardous conditions using engineering controls. Changes in work practices and management policies, sometimes called administrative controls. Use of personal equipment.6. Establish healthcare management to emphasize the importance of early detection and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders for preventing impairment and disability. In general, healthcare management emphasizes the prevention of impairment and disability through early detection, prompt treatment, and timely recovery. Medical management responsibilities fall on employers, employees, and healthcare providers.7. Minimize risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders when planning new work processes and operations. It is less costly to build good design into the workplace than to redesign or retrofit later. Proactive ergonomics emphasize efforts at the design stage of work processes to recognize needs for avoiding risk factors that can lead to musculoskeletal problems.This information has been excerpted from the “Elements of Ergonomics Programs” primer, prepared by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Washington, D.C. To read the complete primer, visit (

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