The average full-time Irish employee spends anywhere from 1,800 – 2,000 hours a year in the workplace. Depending on the nature of your occupation, all this time & effort can put a serious strain on your eyes, joints, back, arms and neck. This is a major concern for employees and employers alike, as bad working habits and conditions can lead to ongoing pain or long-term injury. If your working environment is below par and/or poorly designed this can lead to reduced performance & production, loss of earnings, increased medical expenses or even disability in some cases.
Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom; by implementing a structured approach to Ergonomics within the workplace you can protect yourself as well as your staff. The primary goal of ergonomics is to design the working environment to be adaptable to a variety of human capabilities and limitations. This can be achieved by adequately matching the requirements of a job to the capacity of the employee in an effort to avoid or reduce the possibilities of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s).
“Ergonomics applies information about human behaviour, abilities and limitations and other characteristics to the design of tools, machines, tasks, jobs and environments for productive, safe, comfortable and effective human use” (McCormick and Saunders 1993).
The human body, in particular the upper body such as the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, neck and back are comprised of an intricate network of nerves, muscles, bones, tendons and fluids. Over time during different activities in the workplace can cause the tissues to become aggravated which can result in the fluid pressure being inflated around the nerves. This can lead to compression and ultimately nerve damage, even inflamed tendons can be a root cause of nerve damage.
MSD’s and other nerve disorders can be irritated & accelerated by repeated motions of the body when subjected to awkward postures, forceful exertion, vibration and exposure to extreme temperatures (hot or cold). A common example of a workplace MSD would be Carpal Tunnel Syndrome which is when the median nerve in the wrist becomes compressed and damaged including swelling of the tendon structures. This can occur from repeated actions with a bent or extended wrist at poor angles and/or involving high force. Due to the sensitivity of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome non-work related activities like sports, fishing or needlework can also prolong or exasperate the condition. This can also make it difficult to identify the main cause of the disorder.
However by applying a well-designed Ergonomic environment within the workplace this will allow people and things to interact more safely & efficiently. When administering this science to the workplace, designers must receive the necessary information & training in ergonomics as well as the guidelines on risk reduction. Their design strategy must match the job requirements to the workers capabilities and limitations. An example of this would be applying a mechanical assistance device to a job requiring manual handling or lifting tasks. This would include devices such as trolleys, pallet trucks, conveyor belts and mobile raising platforms.
Many of these ergonomic policies mentioned above have been adopted into Irish legislation. The Safety Health & Welfare at Work Regulations of 2007 details the specifics surrounding the manual handling of loads. The regulation defines Manual handling as:
“any transporting or supporting of a load by one or more employees, and includes lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving a load, which by reason of its characteristics or unfavourable ergonomic conditions, involves risk, particularly of back injury, to employees”
There are several key areas in which employers and employees can focus on to reduce some of the risk of injury in the workplace.
The majority of the time it is your own working habits that can become symptomatic of joint, neck, shoulder or back pain. Unfortunately good posture is not as simple as finding a comfortable position in which to sit or stand in. The posture in which you keep your body will dictate how your muscles and joints will respond in each activity. Forceful Stress can be put on your spinal cord and discs when your back is bent or in twisted position and repeated activities requiring work above shoulder height can further accelerate this condition. Ergonomic specialists have offered some guidance on simple changes that you can make to your behaviours and environment in the workplace.
A large portion of people in the workforce are required to sit for large periods of the day so the emphasis on a good ergonomic chair is highly important. The characteristics of a good chair consist of all of the following attributes:
In the case where your feet don’t comfortably reach the floor, a footrest might be something to consider. Additionally if you are using an older style of chair that does not have the appropriate lumbar support you might try using a small cushion or a rolled towel to relieve any pressure on your lower back.
Another common grievance in the workplace for employees who spend an abundance of time on the computer is eyestrain. The issues can arise from Screen glare, lighting levels and the overall readability of display screen equipment. Ergonomic specialists offer the following advice for these areas:
• Position your monitor to shield any external or internal light sources.
• Correct the angle of the monitor for better visibility.
• Invest in a high-quality glare filter for the monitor.
• If possible place your screen at a right angle to the window.
Internal lighting levels can also be another cause of eyestrain for many in the workplace. In Ireland the Office Premises Regulation in 1959 state that:
“The standard of sufficient and suitable lighting for parts of offices in which persons are employed in clerical work (other than the work of drawing) shall be a level of illumination of fifteen lumens per square foot at every place where such clerical work is being carried on, the intensity of illumination to be measured in the horizontal plane at desk level.”
Beyond the internal lighting levels there are other exercises you can implement in your routine to help combat these issues.
Readability of Display Screen Equipment
The Safety and Welfare at Work Regulations of 2007 contains all the regulations surrounding “display screen equipment” which means any alphanumeric or graphic display screen, regardless of the display process involved. This outlines all the factors that need to be considered as part of the risk assessment. Nonetheless there are simple processes that you can apply to your day-to-day activities to avoid vision issues.
As you can probably tell there are many aspects in your daily work rituals to consider to protect yourself from harm. The best advice would be to contact an expert so that you can reduce workplace injuries, assess your risk as well as be compliant with the Health & Safety Regulations and your duty of care. For more information please visit - http://hcsi.ie/occupational-health-services/occupational-health-services.html or alternatively please feel free to Email or call us directly at (01) 629-7470.
The benefits of health screening can be felt by both the employer and the employee alike. Health screening is an effective way of increasing employee morale, and leads to reduced sickness and levels of absenteeism.
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