Equipment Ergonomics

As many of you are probably already aware, our body parts are worn down over time as we continue to put stress on our bodies through strenuous activities, repetitive motions, heavy lifting, bending in awkward positions for extended periods of time, etc.

The study of how work demands affect human capabilities is known as ergonomics. Ergonomics is necessary in today’s day because of the amount of injuries and long term effects that common work equipment has on the body over time. Although a worker may not realize these effects at the time of using the equipment, the body is prone to joint damage, risk of injury by lifting and carrying heavy equipment, back issues, etc. Some of the more commonly studied ergonomics are from the standard ladders and scaffolds, as they are used in almost any work environment where there are height requirements.

Although ladders are as popular as they are because of their light weight, ability to set up easily, and its capability to reach higher areas, the effects they have on the human body have been studied time and time again. Aside from accidents such as slipping and falling on a ladder, issues such as musculoskeletal injuries associated with the knee joint are becoming more dominant (Reid & McMulin, 2006). According to OSHA, some of the more popular musculoskeletal disorders that occur from long term use of ladders are:

  • Muscle strains and back injuries that occur from repeated use or overexertion;
  • Tendinitis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome;
  • Rotator cuff injuries (from continuous over extension of the shoulders)

Due to the increasing number of accidents / injuries / and long term effects of using ladders, many companies are beginning to move away from this type of equipment to alternative methods.

Similar to how ladders have adverse effects on the human body, research is beginning to show the same effects coming from standard scaffolding equipment. REBA (Rapid Entire Body Assessment) has showed that building/erecting scaffolds requires lifting/carrying heavy and bulky materials, awkward postures (reaching and holding overhead, and kneeling on the scaffolds), and repetitive motions (hammering the cuplocks) which have shown to lead to a higher risk of musculoskeletal injuries and disorders as well, especially to the back and shoulder, which is becoming more commonly seen in scaffold builders. Researchers and companies are beginning to encourage safety managers and workers to seek other options to complete the job in order to decrease these types of work injuries.

One of the alternatives my company has gone with that has proven to work so far is a piece of equipment that is a mix of a ladder and scaffold called the X-Deck.  I’m sure there are some factors to this safety deck that are similar to traditional scaffolds and ladders that can effect the worker over time, however, the way its set up (lighter weight, more portable, less bending / stretching to set it up or when on top of the platform) is designed to put less stress on the workers bodies. There is also some flex in the deck that gives it a softer feel on the feet when standing on it for extended periods of time.  For those of you not familiar with the product, it looks something like this:

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Please keep in mind this is just one of the alternatives out on the market that I’ve personally came across, as I am sure there are others. SafeTec has done a great job understanding the frustrations many workers experience working with standard equipment and has focused on those areas by creating a product that reduces discomfort, injuries, and long term ware and tear on the body.

Think Safety First