Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Many industries and work environments, often unintentionally, expose workers to hazardous conditions and constant physical stress resulting in accidents, injuries, and chronic conditions. Some high-risk groups include assembly line workers, manufacturing employees, healthcare workers and office workers. Jobs requiring continual heavy lifting or constant repetition of the same motion can be especially stressful. Office work—especially that involving constant computer use—can lead to various physical problems. These include eye strain from artificial lighting and computer screens, back problems related to incorrect posture and ill-fitting chairs or workstations and hand, wrist, or shoulder injuries due to excessive or incorrect keyboard use.
Assessments are an extremely valuable tool in preventing workplace injuries or returning an employee to work following a workplace injury. The desired outcomes of ergonomic assessment and intervention are a quicker return to work of injured employees, a safer and more efficient work environment, prevention of future injuries, and increased understanding of safe work and postural practices. By reducing injuries, Workers' Compensation claims, and employee absenteeism, adjustments made to the work environment and related activities can lead to reductions in cost to the employer.
An ergonomic assessment is a simple 30-60 minute process designed to assess each person’s unique postural tendencies and offer recommendations to limit strain associated with particular positions. A Physical Therapist (PT) is trained in optimal positioning and movement to limit stresses on muscles, tendons, and joints and can identify potential problem areas for each person. A problem may already be present such as shoulder pain, neck pain, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and back injuries. Or a problem may be avoided if a repetitive movement is able to be minimized and/or corrected by an assessment from a PT.
Assessments can be performed with any type of job and are not limited to desk jobs. Truck drivers, construction sites, office jobs, etc. would all benefit from an ergonomic assessment. The optimal height of chairs will vary based on the person’s tendency to be in posterior, neutral, or anterior pelvic alignment so it is not a one size fits all approach. It may also change whether you’re shifting in a truck or seated at a computer. Lifting mechanics are extremely important with construction type work or UPS drivers, etc.
Ergonomic assessment and intervention includes the "Five E's" of correction and injury prevention: Ergonomic-engineering, exposure reduction, exercise, enforcement of preventative procedures or policies and education. Ergonomic evaluations should be a part of every workplace environment, benefitting both the employee and the employer, since no one benefits from a workplace injury.
~Dr. Lindsey Topping, DPT