Group of employees sitting at a table, representing ergonomics

The importance of ergonomics for material handling

In order to be effective, ergonomic design must take into account the physical characteristics of workers and their work environment.
John Sherman

The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics as “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data, and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.” In other words, ergonomics is a combination of systems, processes, and products that enhance employee safety.

Regardless of the size of your company or its industry, whether agriculture, construction, healthcare, manufacturing, mining, transportation, retail, or something entirely different, if you have employees who handle materials, it is essential you provide them with viable ergonomic solutions. Otherwise, you could easily see a rise in the number of injured workers, which negatively impacts productivity and employee morale, not to mention the increasing number of worker’s compensation claims.

Multiple studies performed by highly respected organizations show a direct link between injuries, especially musculoskeletal ones, and a lack of ergonomics. For you to run a successful business, you need healthy employees and no risk of insurance claims or personal injury lawsuits. One change can achieve those goals.

The current statistics will help you understand the magnitude of ergonomics for material handlers. For instance, the 25 million people over the age of 55 working today will jump to 32 million by 2025. Also, roughly 33 percent of Americans are obese, carrying over 30 pounds of excess fat. That means there is a lot of aging and overweight material handlers on the job. Another statistic shows manual labor, specifically material handling, accounts for 65 percent of all worker’s compensation claims filed.

An increase in customer demand only compounds the problem. As consumers want more products delivered faster, the already hard job performed by material handlers becomes even more challenging. In response, many companies extend their employees’ hours to meet those growing demands. The harder and longer material handlers work, the higher the risk of sustaining an injury.

Nonergonomic Risk Factors

  1. Task Repetition
  2. Forceful Exertions
  3. Repeating or Sustaining Awkward Postures

Task Repetition

It is also essential for you to put work practice controls in place. In other words, material handlers need specific training on how to perform their job effectively, yet safely. You might even rotate them, so they do more than one type of task. That way, your workers avoid prolonged periods of repetitive work. Changing movement to be more ergonomically sound will make a significant difference.

Forceful Exertions

Depending on the material moved, some handlers use excessive force as part of the task. As expected, using the muscles with great force is a recipe for injury. Some of the ergonomic solutions to consider include teaching counterbalancing methods, providing your workers with mechanical assists, and giving them dollies and carts to use.

Repeating or Sustaining Awkward Positions

You may not realize it, but repetitive or sustained awkward positions put an extreme amount of force on muscles, tendons, and joints. Again, ergonomics can eliminate this stress on your material handlers. The goal is to select ergonomic tools that allow your employees to keep optimal joint positions and avoid vulnerability. Along with beneficial online training courses to teach them proper work techniques, job rotation is another viable solution.

Risks Beyond Injury

While the safety and health of your employees is your number one priority, it is crucial to understand how poor or non-ergonomics in the workplace can lead to other devastating results.

When a material handler sustains an injury, he or she must take time off from work as ordered by a doctor. Because of that, you end up short staffed. In response, you would likely see production decline, which has a direct effect on customer satisfaction and employee morale. Your customers do not care why their orders are late, damaged, or missing components. All they want is the stellar product they ordered.

As the number of customer complaints rises, you can expect to see frustration, hopelessness, and even anger among your team of material handlers. In their eyes, they are working as hard and diligently as possible, yet not making customers happy. One injury due to poor or a lack of ergonomics in the workplace starts a vicious cycle that is hard to stop.

If you employ material handlers and worry about an existing or developing ergonomics situation in your business, act now. Consider the solutions mentioned. As for training, take advantage of superior-quality courses designed by industry experts, medical professionals, business executives, ergonomic specialists, and more.

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