Ergonomic Workplaces – Common Issues and Causes

Ergonomic workplaces – Not everyone is safe from ergonomic injuries. All professions have certain degrees of potentiality to be affected by ergonomical impropriety. The first step in tackling this head on, is by fully understanding the ergonomic issues existing within your profession and root of said problem.

Lucky for you, in this article we are going to cover the type of ergonomic issues that arise in your line of work, what causes them, and the occupations most at risk to these problems.

Common Ergonomic Injuries Symptoms

These ergonomic problems may seem familiar to you as they often present as pain in the neck, shoulder, back and other body extremities such as your elbow, wrist and knee. Different symptoms presented solely depends on what kind of condition you are suffering. These common symptoms can comprise of:

  • Tingling or numbing sensation
  • Dull, aching, sharp and stabbing feeling, or burning pain
  • Muscle weakness, reduced strength in grip
  • Cramping
  • Loss of coordination
  • Discomfort during/Decreased range of motion
  • Coldness or discoloration of the affected region
  • Swelling/inflammation
  • Stiff joints
  • Fatigue/blurred vision
  • Burning or watery eyes
  • Frequent headaches

Statistics show that for all the times office workers are forced to take days of work, 34% of that is due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders  [1]

It is a shame to have to face these pains and problems as they stunt productivity and progress. More often than not, some musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) majorly contributes to early retirement, less work time and therefore income, as well as reduced inability to participate in their social lives. These problems are inevitable, therefore it is a responsibility to educate the public on early prevention, early diagnosis, management, and treatment.

Did you know: Worldwide, back pain is the number 1 cause of diability [2]

Activities and actions that Contribute to Ergonomic Problems

A reason why these ergonomic injuries are so common, is because there are many factors that contribute to developing these problems. Early detection of these factors is essential to alleviate and rid people of MSDs.

Prolonged Repetitive Actions

Repetitive tasks refer to the same action carried out over and over again, utilizing the same groups of muscles and joints. This unfortunately exists in the daily routine of some occupations. The constant usage and contraction of these muscles lead to fatigue. Eventually, these structures have little to no time to recover before they are used again the next day and the cycle continues.

Did you know: If 50% of your work time comprise of repetitive motions or the time between frequent repetitive motions is less than 30 seconds, you are at high risk of developing an ergonomic injury [3]

Maintained Awkward or Static Position

There are two types of bad postures that progressively will end up causing ergonomic injuries. They are:

  • Awkward postures: Bending, twisting, stretching, straining and overextending the back which affects the body’s natural alignment over time
  • Static postures: Being in the same position for long periods of time. For example; sitting, standing and hunching over which causes the muscles to tire out. Moreover, the static position prevents proper blood circulation within the body.

Vibration

Occupations involving vibration (e.g. drilling) may seem harmless, but over time, it can lead to MSDs.

People who experience whole body vibrations, such as bus drivers, or localized vibrations caused by industrial gadgets can damage small capillaries that branch from your arteries, that are carrying nutrients to distal parts of the body. When these capillaries are affected, you will experience reduced or loss of sensation within the area. If it progresses further without treatment, it may even cause pain and stiffness.

Another statistics show that out of all the occupational drivers there are, around 65% of them are succeptible to developing low back pain due to  prolonged whole body vibration.  [5]

Exertion of Too Much Force

Newton’s law states that for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. When a great force is exerted by the body, an equal amount of force is produced against it. This becomes dangerous when the body is not positioned in a fit manner to withstand the resultant force. When this happens, over time, the body will have little time to recover and develop higher risks of sustaining ergonomic injuries.

Some examples of overexertion comprises of lifting, pushing or pulling heavy loads and even using old tools and industrial power equipments. Cold temperatures exacerbate things as the hands get numb and due to this, worker overestimate their capacity to work.

A study shows that 35% of work-related injuries are directly linked to overexertion. It is also the highest contributer to workers’ compensation costs.  [6]

Occupations High at Risk of Causing Ergonomic Issues

As mentioned before, certain professions are more prone than others to developing MSDs.

Professions such as operators, laborers, fabricators and people who work in technical, sales, and administrative support, are most at risk of suffering ergonomic injuries.

Below are the professions most at risk of developing ergonomic injuries.

Construction/industrial Workers

Construction workers are unfortunately one of those most affected by MSDs due to all the intensive labor work. Their daily routine includes heavy lifting, awkward positions, repetitive arm or leg movements, and handling vibrating power equipments. All these actions together pose a very high risk of them developing MSDs such as tendinitis, low back pain, mid back pain, arthritis, herniated discs, CTS and hand-arm vibration syndrome.

  • It is shown in a study conducted over 10 years that construction and extraction jobs are at the highest risk of developing work-related tendonitis, and 44.2% of these workers report that they suffer from the disorder.
  • 58.2% of bricklayers, 55.8% of elecrticians, 55.7% of ironworkers and 46.2% of carpenters suffer from upper limb disorders
  • The more specific conditions faced by ironworkers who are affected by upper limb disorders, suffer from tendonitis (19%), ruptured spinal disc (18%), shoulder bursitis (15%), and carpal tunnel syndrome (12%).
  • Based on the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses 2019, it shows that 41.7% of industrial workers had back injuries and 45.6% of them had arthritis.

Operators, fabricators, and laborers contribute to 38% of back injury cases and 36.7% of carpat tunnel syndrome(CTS) cases. [8]

Computer Office Workers

Office workers mostly work on computers. They type, mouse and stay sedentary at their desks for long periods of time. When these habits remain without ergonomical correction, these office workers will undoubtfully begin to develop conditions such as CTS, anterior head carriage (forward head posture), low back pain, radial tunnel syndrome (RTS), tendinitis, eye strain, etc.

  • According to a 2008 BLS report, 60% of computer workers suffer from wrist pain due to improper ergonomics and inadequate break intervals.
  • According to a survey conducted in 2016, 41% and 38% of  computer workers compained of upper back and neck fatigue respectively

Technical, sales, and administrative support office workers make up 34.2% of CTS cases. [8]

Healthcare Professionals/workers

Healthcare professionals are commonly prone to sustaining ergonomic injuries having to care for patients, handle and move machines around, worked in cramped spaces and stand for long periods of time.

Gradually, workloads like this can lead to work related MSDs such as back pain, tendonitis, CTS and tension neck syndrome.

  • According to a survey carried out in 2014 of healthcare workers in India, it is stated that the top risk factors for MSD are staying in one position or static for prolonged hours (37.10%), awkward working positions (29.20%)
  • Annually, the prevalence of conditions in hospital workers are (40%) neck pain, (30-60%) back injuries nad (47%) shoulder injuries. [13]
  • Work-related MSD rate for nurses is 4 times higher than other type of workers.

Did you know: Up to 11% of nurses change jobs because of MSDs [13]

Cashiers

Cashiers work a lot from their arms, hands and wrists, therefore they are often succeptible to developing CTS due to repetitive scanning of products. On the other, other types of grocery workers, such as baggers for instance, are more prone to low back pain, tendonitis and herniated disc due to prolonged handling of heavy loads.

  • In a study conducted in 2015, the percentage of grocery workers suffering from CTS increased by a massive 138%.
  • Furthermore, 93% of cashiers carry out low force but repetitive tasks for half at hour of their work period at a minimum.

31% of full-time and 10.3% of part-time cashiers suffer from symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome [14]

Cleaners

Immense workload is sometimes demanded from cleaners who have to perform repetitive sweeping and mopping motions or get into awkward and straining positions to reach certain corners to be cleaned. As for the men, rather than repetitive strain, they are often required to lift or move heavy loads about, and when done in the wrong position or form, it is easy to injure yourself.

  • Based on a survey, 54 to 79% of cleaners perform frequent or continuous repetitive movements. [15]
  • More than 25% of cleaners have to manage loads that are more than 25 kg. [15]
  • The MSD common regions faced by cleaners are the low back (46%), neck (33%), knees (24%), right shoulder (23%) and right wrist/hand (22%). [15]

90% of cleaners complain of work-related musculoskeletal discomfort in at least one area of the body  [16]

Occupational Drivers

As mentioned before, occupational drivers are required to spend almost the whole day sitting in a non-stop vibrating vehicle, causing continuous whole body vibration. This factor leads to back pain, hip pain, arthritis and vibration disease.

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, 23% of the days bus drivers are forced to take off are due to MSDs.
  • In terms of annual prevalence, the commonly complained about areas for bus drivers are the neck (26%), back (24%), upper limbs (20%), knees (6%), and ankles (4%). In another study conducted, the prevalence of neck pain is as high as 49%. [17]
  • The occurence of low back pain in truck drivers over 12 months is 60% and 51% for taxi drivers. [17]

46% of bus drivers are highly succeptible to developing musculoskeletal disorders. [17]

Production Workers

Among production workers, females are often times required to carry out tasks that require repetitive assembly work while standing the whole time. This does not only places strain on the eyes but also leads to the tendency of CTS, hip pain and back pain. As for male production workers, the are often needed to handle machinery and heavy loads. Doing this repetitvely and in the wrong position will lead to development of back pain and tendinitis.

  • In a study of 500 assembly workers carried out in 2010, one third of them reported having upper and lower back pain.
  • Upper limb conditions in women is 35% and 12% for men in some manufacturing plants. As for neck, shoulder, and back conditions, the prevalence was 27% for female and 18% for male workers.
  • Musculoskeletal discomfort is left unchecked in assembly workers in the body areas such as the right shoulder (61.4%), right wrist (60%), and upper back (63.2%). [18]

75.4% of assembly workers suffer from musculoskeletal pain in the lower back. [18]

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