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National Safety Month – Week 2: Ergonomics and Overexertion

June 5, 2012

Throughout June, the National Safety Council is encouraging businesses and communities across the country to participate in National Safety Month. Each week the Council is highlighting a leading cause of preventable injury and providing education about how to make your business or home a safer working environment. This week’s topic is Ergonomics and Overexertion. 

 Ergonomics studies the relationship between human users, their equipment and their environment. In the context of workplace safety, ergonomics focuses on the intersection between job function and the physical demands on an employee. For instance, while the iPad is an elegant ergonomic design for casual reading and information sharing, its design would be an ergonomic nightmare for a data entry clerk.

The lack of good ergonomics in the workplace is a key driver of employee injury, which in turn affects workers’ compensation costs. The National Safety Council  estimates that “overexertion is the third-leading cause of unintentional injury treated in emergency departments” and that these injuries can easily be prevented by encouraging good ergonomic practices. The most common injuries resulting from overexertion are strains (tendons or muscles) and sprains (ligaments), especially of the lower back. These injuries usually involve moving materials, for instance, reaching for or lifting a load from one spot to another, transferring the weight of a load to a carrying position, or lowering a load to the ground or handing it to someone.

As with all preventable injury, awareness and foresight are the best medicine. Make sure you’re familiar with any overexertion hazards present in your home or office. Causes of overexertion to watch for include:

Heavy lifting
• Bending at the waist (especially repeatedly, for a long time or with twisting)
• Pushing/pulling
• Long-term poor posture (while either sitting or standing)
Sitting while absorbing vibration through the body (as in truck driving)

These causes can be exacerbated by personal conditions like aging (with its loss of flexibility), poor physical condition and weight.

Once you’re aware of its causes, the key to preventing overexertion is to assess the situation and to work smart and comfortably, not hard. Ergonomic tips for avoiding overexertion include:

• Use good lifting techniques
• Avoid twisting or overextending your reach
• Properly position chairs and workstations
• Use devices like dollies, hand trucks, and pallet jacks
• Know your physical limits
• Manage personal factors by reducing stress, staying hydrated, keeping fit, and getting a good night’s sleep

 The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries website offers additional tips for implementing effective ergonomics in your workplace. You can also subscribe to the Avanti Reader via RSS or follow us on Twitter and Facebook to recieve more information about National Safety Month in the weeks to come.

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