Health & Safety

April 20, 2012

Ergonomics in the prevention of mishaps

What is ergonomics?  Ergonomics is the science concerned with the ‘fit’ between people and their work. It puts people first, taking into account individual capabilities and limitations. Ergonomics aims to ensure that tasks, tools and equipment, information, physical job demands and the environment suit each worker to maximize productivity and decrease the onset of cumulative trauma disorders.

How can ergonomics improve health and safety?  Applying ergonomics to the workplace reduces the potential for injury and illness, while improving performance and productivity.  Mishaps as a result cumulative trauma can be prevented if ergonomics is considered when designing the jobs people do and the systems and workplaces within which they work. Injury prevention is accomplished by fitting the job to the worker instead of fitting the worker to the job.

Ergonomics can also reduce the potential for fatigue which is often a precursor to pain common in the wrists, shoulders, back and neck due to poor posture, repetition and excessive force.   Failure to observe ergonomic principles may have serious repercussions, not only for individuals, but whole organizations through increased injury and illness rates, absenteeism, higher error rates and decreased productivity.

What kind of workplace problems can ergonomics solve?  Ergonomics is typically known for solving physical problems in the workplace. For example, ensuring that work surfaces are high enough to allow adequate clearance for a worker’s legs or making work platforms adjustable to accommodate alternating between a seated and standing work posture that can reduce stress on the lower back.  Physical workplace factors, such as workstation heights, angles, adjustability, cushioning, temperature, vibration, lighting, noise and more, are evaluated.

How are ergonomic problems identified?  There are many ways in which ergonomic problems can be easily identified. These can range from general observations and use of checklists, to quantitative risk assessment tools.


Anyone can conduct a basic ergonomic assessment of a workplace.  Ideally, several approaches should be used:

  • Talk to personnel. Workers have important knowledge of the work they do, any problems they have, and their impact on health, safety, and performance.
  • Is the person in a comfortable position?
  • Does the person experience discomfort, including aches, pain, fatigue, or physical stress?
  • Is the equipment appropriate for the job, easy to use and well maintained?
  • Is the person satisfied with their working environment?
  • Are there frequent errors?
  • Observe the worker.  Look for likely causes of physical stresses and consider possible solutions. A minor alteration may be all that is necessary to make a task easier and safer to perform.
  • Follow checklists to evaluate the workplace.
  • Take pictures to help show the worker your observations and document changes.


Take action:

  • Implement recommendations and test them for effectiveness.
  • Determine if tools or equipment need to be purchased or if adjustments can be made to items already in the workplace.
  • Introduce job rotation between different tasks to reduce physical and mental fatigue.


The following examples highlight some typical ergonomic problems found in the administrative or office workplace:

  • Display screen/monitor is poorly positioned – it is too high/low/close/far from the worker, or is offset to one side which can place unnecessary stress on the neck.
  • The mouse or track ball is placed too far away and requires excessive stretching to use.
  • Chairs are not properly adjusted to fit the person, forcing awkward and uncomfortable postures.
  • There is glare on the display monitor from overhead lights or windows, increasing the risk of eyestrain.
  • Keyboards are positioned too high or too low which encourages excessive flexion or extension of the wrists.
  • Obstacles under desks and workbenches may not allow for sufficient leg room.
  • Items stored on shelving may need to be moved so those used most frequently and those that are heaviest are stored between waist and shoulder height.
  • Workers may not be taking adequate stretch/rest breaks to allow for changes of activity.

Always make sure that any workplace changes are properly evaluated by the people who do the job. Be careful that a change introduced to solve one problem does not create difficulties elsewhere.  Encourage open communication with employees to suggest ideas and discuss possible solutions. Involve employees from the start of the process to help all personnel accept any proposed changes.

An understanding of ergonomics in your workplace can improve your daily work routine.  It is possible to eliminate risk factors that lead to fatigue, aches and pain at work, improve job satisfaction and reduce physical stresses on the body. Application of sound ergonomic principles can reduce the onset of cumulative trauma disorders.  Ergonomic solutions are often very simple and straight forward changes that can make a considerable improvement in productivity and reduction of injury or illness.

Additional training on Ergonomics as well as self-evaluation checklists are available on ESAMS at   If you would like to have ergonomic evaluation conducted on your workstation, contact the NAWS Safety Office at (760) 939-2315 to schedule an on-site visit.

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