Education - OnTask Inc - Ergonomics Early Intervention

By: Ontask  09-12-2011

Have you ever heard of the saying: “Engage your brain before putting mouth in gear”?

Putting your brain in gear before starting your work can save you a lot of pain and strain. Ask:

  • Do you know what you are supposed to do?
  • Do you have all of the tools where you need them?
  • Are there any obstructions that you can clear to make the job easier?
  • Put your ‘Ergo’ hat on and think – there must be a simpler way!

Simple solutions like raising your work off the floor, taking a few extra minutes to find a cart, a dolly, or a forklift can save you a few minutes or a sore back for weeks.

As always, our muscles only get stronger when they are used. Shift your gears and try a couple of ‘brain’ repetitions today!

Why is it that when a warning light comes on in our car or truck, we immediately pick up the phone and call our mechanic? Are you maintaining your car better than you are maintaining your body?

Musculoskeletal symptoms are our body’s warning lights. Discomfort, pain, numbness, tingling, a reduction in the ability to move, or swelling are a few of the most common indicators that tell us that we should change our direction.

One of the main reasons that MSIs are important to understand is that these types of injuries can slowly or quickly escalate from minor discomfort to serious symptoms that impact all aspects of your life. In as little as 6 weeks, MSI symptoms can progress from signs or symptoms to structural changes in your soft tissue.

That’s why putting your hand up early and getting help on (supervisor, safety) or off the job (family physician, physical therapist), will help ensure that your symptoms are temporary and that you can keep your body on the road.

Regardless of the workstation layout, we must treat our body well. Every day, each of us makes many decisions as to how we get the job done.

You wouldn’t overload your car like the owner in this picture just to speed up your home renovation – so why would you do this to your back or shoulder on the job?

Consider your own personal physical limits when planning your work each day.

  • Plan and make sure you have the right tools for the job – where and when you need them.
  • Ask for help when needed.
  • Plan your work and recognize when the primary risk factors (high force, awkward postures, static postures or repetition) may occur. Then, talk to your workmates and find a better way.
  • If you think that something isn’t feeling right – tell someone. You’re probably not the only one.

Research has identified specific risk factors that correspond to an increased likelihood of developing pain or injuries at work. The three most common risk factors should be minimized whenever possible:

Risk Factor 1: Force and Working Distance

  • Loads are magnified when held away from our bodies.
  • The weight of our body is a significant load when leaning forward.

Risk Factor 2: Awkward Postures

  • Working in awkward postures can lead to muscle imbalances and joint damage.
  • Do you feel balanced when you work or do you feel the overloaded in one body part?
  • Simple tactics like positioning your work between waist and shoulder level can pay immediate dividends.

Risk Factor 3: Static Postures

  • Contracting a muscle for more than 20 seconds without rest reduces blood flow, accelerates fatigue and can cause discomfort.
  • Do you ‘push through’ to get the job done or do you pace yourself?

The Worst Case. All of the above.

  • When there is more than one risk factor, the likelihood of an injury dramatically increases.

As a start – scan your workplace for tasks that involve a lot of force and awkward postures. Chances are you will find pain or injuries nearby.

It is important to understand how to properly manage your workday to minimize the risks of discomfort and injury. Personal habits can go a long way to success or failure when dealing with workplace discomfort.

Put Your Hand Up & Get Help:

  • What should you do when you experience discomfort?
  • A change is needed if you want your pain to go away.

Don’t Take it Sitting Down:

  • Our body is not meant to sit for long periods of time.
  • Get out of your chair at every opportunity.

Microbreak Software:

  • Do you need help reminding yourself to get up and move around?
  • There are some great software solutions that can help encourage good habits.

Take a Break:

  • Don’t work through breaks and lunch.
  • Your body needs to move.
  • Use your breaks to get out of your office.
  • Eat lunch away from your desk.

Good posture is a good habit that contributes to the well-being of the individual… Conversely, bad posture is a bad habit. The ideal alignment of the body may not be attainable in every respect, but it is the standard toward which efforts to attain it are directed. – Kendall, McCreary and Provance, 1993.

 The greatest thing about posture is that we control our posture and postural habits.

  • Do you know what good posture is?
  • Do you use good or bad posture?
  • Do you squeeze the phone between your ear and shoulder or hold it to your ear with your hand?
  • Do you slouch in your chair or do you slide your hips to the back of the seat every time you sit down?
  • Do you lean on your elbow rather than sitting back in your chair?
  • When you look back on the last year, how do you rate yourself? What can you do to improve this year?

In business, we do performance reviews, business reviews, and project reviews. They help us identify strengths and weaknesses and help us understand where we need to go in order to get better. One of the key features that make up the foundation of a healthy and ergonomic workplace is managing discomfort EARLY - before symptoms become constant.

Take a second and score yourself on the scale at the bottom of the page. Use your score to identify what you need to do to achieve your healthy ergonomic vision for the future.

  • If you have symptoms, what do you need to do about them?
  • Do you want to end this year in less pain than you are in now?
  • If your work tasks are aggravating your symptoms, do you know what to do and who to contact? Within your company, start with your supervisor, HR, or a safety representative.
  • If you have had symptoms for a while, have you discussed it with your health care professionals?
  • Have you ever put your hand up to see what resources your company will provide to help you?
  • If you don’t know why you have symptoms or what to do about them, where do you think you will end up on the scale below at the end of this year? What’s your plan to do better?

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  • If 100 or 1000 repetitions is too many, is one working posture too few? YES!
  • Even standing for a long time in optimal posture like a ‘BeefEater’ can cause discomfort and pain.
  • The muscles that help us with posture are the hardest workers in the body. They turn on and off as we move from position to position. But, if we stay in one position for too long, they can get tired and sore.
  • Other parts of our back can also become weaker when we stay one position for long periods.
  • If you find that yourself working in one posture for long periods of time, get creative to find ways to change your posture, even for a short period. Standing versus sitting, using something to sit on versus kneeling, widening your stance or finding something to lean on temporarily can give you a leg up on this ergonomic enemy.

We love Ben Franklin’s definition of insanity, “… doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Many of us ignore the gradual aches and pain, expecting them to magically disappear. You need to change what you are doing if you want to improve that ache, pain, tingling, numbness or reduced range of motion.
If you hear someone in your workgroup or workplace talking about their pain, try and help point them in the right direction.

There are lots of ways to get help:

Tell them to talk to their supervisor or site safety representatives.
Encourage them to have their work habits and workstation layout assessed.
Encourage them to talk to a practitioner familiar with musculoskeletal disorder development (physio, athletic or massage therapists, sports medicine doctors – Chiropractor or GP).
What’s MOST IMPORTANT is that your co-worker put their hand up and do something. Discomfort and pain can lead to more serious and long term conditions.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a great example of what happens when something is built on an unstable base. Slowly but surely, the structure wobbles and tilts and has problems keeping itself upright.

Is your core a firm foundation or do you find yourself tilted, twisted or shaped like a giant C by 3PM?

Our body should be strong enough to support sitting daily but if we don’t use our muscles at work or home, the foundation gets weaker and weaker (and weaker and weaker)… No matter what age you are, ask yourself, if you keep on doing what you’re doing, where will your body be in 5, 10 or 15 years?

A person who has health has a thousand wishes. The person who doesn’t has but one. – Author unknown

Put Your Hand Up – Get Help!

…doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. -Ben Franklin

We are all pretty familiar with the signs and symptoms of injuries that come from something unexpected like a slip or a fall. We may not be so aware of warnings of a slow hurt. Injuries that take a long time to develop can take a long time to heal so it is best to deal with them early.

We love Ben Franklin’s definition of insanity, “… doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Many of us ignore the gradual aches and pain, expecting them to magically disappear. You need to change what you are doing if you want to improve that ache, pain, tingling, numbness or reduced range of motion.

There are lots of ways to get help:

  • Ask you supervisor or site safety representatives.
  • Have a professional ergonomist review your work habits and workstation layout.
  • Talk to a practitioner familiar with musculoskeletal disorder development (physio, athletic or massage therapists, sports medicine doctors – Chiropractor or GP).
  • Do some on-line reading at WorkSafeBC or CCOHS.

The fourth and final pillar is our work habits. I love this quote:

First we form habits, then they form us. Conquer your bad habits or they will conquer you. – Dr. Rob Gilbert

When you look back how did your habits form you last year? Take a second to score yourself using the scale on the bottom of the page.

  • What do your work habits say about you and how much you value your health and wellness?
  • Do you work as long and as hard as you can until you are physically and mentally spent? Or do you pace yourself to make sure that you finish your day with no discomfort and some reserve for your family?
  • What’s the longest that you go without taking a break? 4 hours or 30 minutes?
  • Do you work in one posture all day long or do you choose to stand up, or change your work posture frequently throughout the day?
  • Do you know any stretches or simple exercises that you can do to counter the stresses and postures that you work in all day?
  • Do you know what microbreaks are and how they prevent fatigue and discomfort?

Reflect back and look forward. What’s your plan to make your rating a ‘10’?

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