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Use the proper tools to do your job safely

Ergonomics considers how people work and helps them understand how they can work better
  • Ergonomics covers all aspects of a job, from the physical stresses it places on joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, bones and the like to the envi- ronmental factors which can affect, hearing, vision and general comfort and health. — ERICA ROLLE

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: Jun 25, 2013

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A kink in the neck that just won’t go away after sitting at your desk all day, or perhaps you do a lot of lifting on the job and have constant lower back pains. Most people don’t ever think about the kind of work they do, the tools they use and their job environment, but ergonomics considers how people work and helps them understand how they can work better — whether it means adjusting the height of an office chair or computer screen, or learning how to lift things without hurting themselves, ergonomics specialists help people identify the sometimes small changes that can make a big difference in their daily life. Through ergonomics, the aim is to find the best fit between an employee and their job conditions. Ergonomics teaches people to use the proper tools to do the job safely.

Ergonomics was the topic for discussion at the most recent Doctors Hospital Distinguished Lecture Series presented by Erica Rolle, physiotherapist and ergonomic assessment specialist and Estella Thompson, an ergonomic assessment specialist.

According to Rolle, ergonomics is the science of fitting worker to the job, and not fitting the job to the worker.

“Ergonomics covers all aspects of a job, from the physical stresses it places on joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, bones and the like to the environmental factors which can affect, hearing, vision and general comfort and health,” said Rolle.

It is about working smarter and not working harder. And there are various types of ergonomic assessments – functional capacity evaluation, work site analysis or assessment, work hardening and job task analysis.


Functional capacity evaluation

Functional capacity evaluation is three-to-four hour test that determines a person’s ability and their limitations. Specialists use this test to find out if a worker can return to their job and back to the duties they were performing before an injury, and whether the person would have any limitations that accommodations may have to be made for at the work site. Or whether an employer would have to place the employee elsewhere within a company.

A portion of the functional capacity evaluation test involves people who have to do lifting or pushing and pulling. The person’s angle of their joints as well as the their muscle power is tested.

At Doctors Hospital, they use the Matheson System, a computerized program. The ergonomic assessment specialists inputs the data into the computer, the program gives the specialists the impressions, fact and results which the specialists use to formulate a report to send to the referring physician, lawyer, agency or requesting insurance company.

Rolle and Thompson also venture outside the hospital to do work-site analysis in the ergonomics program. They evaluate the work site and how it supports the tasks an employee performs. In the analysis, they look at the user’s posture and their positioning and consider the tasks that they do, the tools that they use, the supporting equipment, the supporting structure and the environment — whether hot, cold — whether the lights are practical for what the employee has to do, the position that they’re in.

“We look at your work station; we look at the environment of your work station — where you don’t have to stretch so far, the outside of that where occasionally you have to reach and where you shouldn’t have to be reaching for anything. Then we assess how you do the job. We assess how you work and if you are performing proper body mechanics in the proper posture,” she said.


Work hardening

For people with injuries, the ergonomic assessment specialist work hardens people to prepare them to return to work.

“Most people who have had injuries are off for a long time, so after a prolonged layoff and recovery, it can be difficult to sustain the normal work activity, so we bring you in after we’ve done the physical therapy, the occupational therapy, gotten rid of your pain, and strengthened your muscles. But especially for people whose jobs involve heavy lifting, they assess them to see if they can lift the weight on a consistent basis to function for the job that they’re going back to. Their goal is to ensure that they are capable of working the job or whether they needed to be accommodated elsewhere.


Job analysis

“Jobs are jobs are jobs. However, you need to understand that jobs have a series of tasks for that job, and a task is an action designed to contribute to a specific end result to accomplish the objective,” said Rolle.

According to Rolle, the difference between a job description and a job task is that a job description is formulated after the development of a job. But she said the job description should really determine the skills needed for a job — whether a person is capable of lifting a chair, whether their hands are strong enough and whether they know the right body mechanics to bend and lift to carry stuff or to push and pull.

The ergonomic assessment specialist said they look at duty, task, activity and step when they look at an activity and a job analysis.


Importance of ergonomics

The ergonomics specialist said when working, and employee’s body could be stressed by an awkward position, extreme temperature or a repeated movement that could affect their muscular-skeletal system is affected. Ergonomics, she said, can help make the job more comfortable for employees.


Benefits of ergonomics

She cited improved productivity among employees as a benefit of ergonomics.

“When we come and teach you good posture and fewer motions to the job that you are doing, you are working better. There is less of a chance for you to get injured and less of a chance for you to get tired. It improves the quality of your work because you’re less frustrated with what you’re doing. You are also less fatigued. You enjoy your job more. And because your company has offered an ergonomic assessment, the employee feels the company is committed to their safety and health, so they tend to feel better about the company and tend to work better.


Ergonomic solutions

With lots of solutions to the workplace problems, Rolle said some of the simplest include using a headpiece when on the telephone, especially in this age when people are on the phone and using the computer simultaneously. She said ensuring that you lift things at work and in the home are also important.

She encouraged employers to seek the support of ergonomic assessment specialists in their business to do an assessment of their workforce to avoid unnecessary injury as they teach people to use the proper body mechanics, the proper ergonomics in a job, to prevent injuries.


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