Ergonomic risk assessments are a method of determining the risks a worker or group of workers faces due to ergonomics. These assessments look at the interaction between the workplace environment and the worker, as well as the worker and their tool or tool set.
They check for risks like prolonged exposure to certain chemicals, injury from repetitive motions, and overall workload. By checking these things, experts can find solutions to reduce these risks.
Ergonomic risk assessments are required by many industries, most notably in the chemical industry. Many companies hire external experts to perform these assessments to ensure that they find all safety hazards in the workplace and outside environments.
What is an Ergonomic Risk Assessment?
An ergonomic risk assessment is a helpful tool for identifying and mitigating risks in the workplace that could lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
This assessment involves studying the work environment and analyzing the factors that might lead to MSDs such as repetitive tasks, awkward postures, or excessive force.
By systematically conducting an ergonomic risk assessment, an organization gains a clear picture of the risks present in its workplace.
This information can help them develop strategies to prevent employee injuries and improve health, productivity, and retention.
Ultimately, by ensuring that employees work in comfortable and safe positions, an ergonomic risk assessment can help to create a more positive work environment.
How to do an Ergonomic Risk Assessment?
What are the key components of an ergonomic risk assessment? These assessments are important for all workers in any industry to know their limits and where to go for help when they reach them. By knowing your limits, you can request an assessment by an external expert to see if you need help lowering your safety risks.
01. Identify the people performing the task(s)
The first step in completing an ergonomic risk assessment is to identify the people performing the task. This includes identifying the workers, their job titles, their responsibilities, and their exposures.
Workers include those in manufacturing, production, and distribution. In this case, workers are those who perform the task(s) in question. Production workers are those who produce something using machines or processes.
Job titles include janitors, engineers, supervisors, and managers, among others. Responsibilities include operating machines, overseeing others who operate machines, and maintaining machines, among other things. Exposures include risks of injury and illness due to the job.
Before completing an ergonomic risk assessment, it is important to know the differences between supervisors and managers. Supervisors directly manage employees and therefore have direct authority over them. Managers do not have direct authority over employees; they manage staff or departmental levels.
02. Identify any modifications to the workspace
Once you have surveyed the workspace, it’s time to identify any modifications that can be made to the workspace to reduce risk.
If the worker spends a significant amount of time typing, you should check their keyboard placement and cushioning. The elbows should be slightly lower than the shoulders, with the wrists in a neutral (not flexed or extended) position.
The keyboard should be spaced, so the elbows are slightly lower than the shoulders. If they use a mouse, it should be positioned in the worker’s preferred hand with the wrist in a neutral (not flexed or extended) position.
If there is excessive sitting due to job requirements, breaks and/or standing workstation modifications can be made to help reduce sitting time. Transitioning from sitting to standing every one to two hours can help boost circulation and blood flow.
03. Look for inconsistencies in body position
Another factor that contributes to musculoskeletal disorders is inconsistency in work practices.
If someone reports pain or says they feel uncomfortable working in a particular position or performing a task, then you need to check if there’s a way to solve the problem or change the process.
For example, if someone says their hands and arms hurt because they have to hold something for a long time, try changing the length of time they have to hold it. Or, if they have to move or shift positions frequently, try changing the length of time they have to do so.
If there is no apparent reason for the discomfort, then talk with them about ways they can make slight adjustments that might help. Try talking with them about how their body feels and how they can address that through small changes.
Additionally, check to see if anyone is sitting or standing in a position that is inconsistent with previous positions.
04. Evaluate discomfort or pain
Discomfort or pain in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, back, and/or abdomen are common issues that lead people to seek help.
Many of these issues are related to bad posture. People often spend long hours at a computer or phone screen which can cause them to lean forward and tense their shoulders.
Others may have problems with their chairs or desks that lead to discomfort. If your employees report discomfort and/or pain, it is important to check these things out.
By asking the right questions during the assessment, you can find out if there are any issues with posture or chair fit. After completing the assessment, you can offer help to those who need it by providing better chairs, improving workspace layout, and providing better ergonomics training.
Ergonomic training is very helpful as well, since it teaches people good habits that can reduce discomfort and pain over time.
05. Review the progress of symptoms
Once you have completed the checklist, your next step is to review all the answers. Look for any corrections that need to be made and check for completeness.
Check for any new symptoms that may have appeared since the beginning of the year and add them to the checklist. You can do this at the end of each month as a prevention measure.
If there are any corrections that need to be made, take some time to figure out why they need to be made. Is it because someone answered no when they should have answered yes? Or did someone answer yes when they should have answered no?
By doing this, you are not only helping to improve safety in your workplace, but also educating others on what signs and symptoms to watch out for.
06. Identify triggers for symptoms
Triggers are what cause symptoms to happen.
Many workers experience symptoms such as shoulder and neck pain, headaches, and wrist pain due to repetitive motion, force, or posture.
Ergonomic risk assessments identify the causes of these symptoms so that you can determine how to eliminate them.
For example, if your assessment finds that sitting for long periods of time causes shoulder and neck pain, then sitting for long periods of time will be identified as a trigger for symptoms.
07. Create a draft risk assessment document
Once you have collected all the information you need, it’s time to put all of this information into a draft risk assessment document.
First, write a general introduction to the risk assessment and the process you went through to complete it. Then, write specific introductions to each section of the risk assessment.
In this section, write down any recommendations for improvement that you noted during your inspection. Give examples and explain how they would improve safety at work.
List all potential ergonomic risks in your workplace and give examples of how they present themselves. Try to be as specific as possible when writing these out.
Write out ways to prevent or reduce the effects of these risks on workers. Give examples and explain how they work. Include any resources that help with this as well.
08. Consult with experts and colleagues
It is important to seek assistance when completing an ergonomic risk assessment. You should not go into this process blindly as that can lead to serious problems.
There are several places you can turn to for help with the assessment. First, check with your employer or employer organization to see if they provide any resources or assistance with completing an ergonomic assessment.
Secondly, there are many websites that provide checklists and guidelines for assessing various workplaces. These can be very useful in providing a framework for assessing your workplace.
Lastly, reach out to colleagues and others in similar fields to see if they have had any issues with workplace safety or health issues related to the work environment. This can help identify some needed changes or improvements for the environment.
These are all helpful sources for finding help with completing an ergonomic risk assessment.
Who Handles Ergonomics in the Workplace?
Employers bear the primary responsibility of ensuring the safety and well-being of their workers, including the implementation of an effective ergonomics program.
Upper management plays a pivotal role in providing directives for the organization to follow, with supervisors responsible for assessing and mitigating any ergonomic-related issues in the workplace.
Workers should actively participate in the ergonomics program, reporting any potential hazards or changes in working conditions.
By reviewing existing data, an employer can learn about potential risk factors and implement basic ergonomic principles to reduce job-related injuries.
Ultimately, all stakeholders have a responsibility to maintain a safe and healthy work environment.