Workplace ergonomics is the science of designing workstations and job tasks to fit the capabilities and limitations of workers.
The goal of workplace ergonomics is to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries, such as strains, sprains, and repetitive motion injuries.
These injuries are a significant cause of workplace injury and can result in pain, discomfort, and lost productivity for workers.
How Bad Is The Problem?
According to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE), musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most common work-related illness in the UK, affecting around 1.3 million workers.
In 2020/21, there were an estimated 480,000 workers who reported suffering from work-related MSDs, and around 6.9 million working days were lost due to these injuries.
Industries with higher rates of MSDs include construction, agriculture, healthcare, and manufacturing. Common causes of MSDs at work include repetitive motion, awkward postures, heavy lifting, and manual handling.
The HSE recommends that employers prioritise ergonomics in the workplace to reduce the risk of MSDs.
This includes analysing work tasks and implementing solutions to reduce risks, such as providing ergonomic workstations and tools, training workers on proper lifting and handling techniques, and encouraging regular breaks and stretching.
Employers who prioritise workplace ergonomics can benefit from increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, and lower workers’ compensation costs.
What Does The Law Say?
There are several relevant laws and regulations related to workplace ergonomics, so every employer should make sure they are aware of them and have a dedicated point of contact or team responsible for upholding the standards required to reduce the risk of injury to staff.
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees, on top of this, The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess the risks of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and take steps to reduce those risks.
- The Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations 1992 (as amended in 2002) require employers to assess the health and safety risks of employees who regularly use display screen equipment (DSE), such as computers, laptops, and tablets. Employers must take steps to reduce any risks identified, such as providing ergonomic workstations and training employees on proper posture and positioning.
- The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require employers to assess the risks associated with manual handling tasks, such as lifting, pushing, and pulling heavy objects. Employers must take steps to reduce any risks identified, such as providing mechanical aids or training employees on proper lifting techniques.
- The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require employers to ensure that the workplace is designed to minimize the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. This includes providing ergonomic workstations and ensuring that lighting and temperature are appropriate for the tasks being performed.
Read more: What do employers need to know about Health & Safety audits at work?
What Can Employers Do To Reduce Musculoskeletal Injuries At Work
There are plenty of simple tips and training that employers can make use of to conduct an ergonomic risk assessment at their workplace to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries occurring, including;
- Analyse Work Tasks: Employers can analyse work tasks to identify potential risks and hazards that may lead to musculoskeletal injuries. This can involve conducting ergonomic assessments of workstations and tools, observing work practices, and soliciting feedback from employees.
- Implement Solutions: Once potential risks have been identified, employers can implement solutions to reduce these risks. This can include providing ergonomic workstations and tools, using mechanical aids to reduce manual handling, and implementing safe lifting and handling techniques.
- Provide Training: Employers can provide training to employees on proper lifting and handling techniques, as well as on the importance of taking breaks and stretching throughout the day.
- Encourage Communication: Employers can encourage open communication between employees and management to identify potential risks and provide feedback on solutions that have been implemented.
- Promote a Culture of Safety: Employers can promote a culture of safety by establishing policies and procedures that prioritise worker safety and by providing resources and support for workers who may be experiencing discomfort or pain.
How Ergonomic Policies Can Help
Incorporating ergonomics into workplace policies can help to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and promote a culture of safety in the workplace.
By providing training, conducting regular assessments, and encouraging employee participation, employers can create a safe and healthy workplace for their employees.
Employers should consider developing appropriate policies, training, compliance monitoring and providing specialist ergonomic equipment where beneficial to workers.
- Policies that outline the importance of ergonomics in the workplace include guidelines on how to properly set up workstations, use ergonomic tools and equipment, and perform tasks in a way that minimises ergonomic risks.
- Training on ergonomic policies and best practices.should be provided to all employees and should be updated regularly.
- Conduct regular ergonomic assessments to identify potential ergonomic risks and hazards and use this information to update policies and training materials as necessary.
- Encourage employees to participate in the development of ergonomic policies and provide feedback on the effectiveness of current policies.
- Providing ergonomic tools and equipment that can help to reduce ergonomic risks and hazards. Examples of such equipment include adjustable chairs, ergonomic keyboards and mice, and height-adjustable workstations.
- You should monitor compliance with ergonomic policies to ensure that employees are following best practices. This can be done through regular assessments and by providing feedback to employees on their performance.
To recap, workplace ergonomics is essential for reducing the risk of musculoskeletal injuries, promoting worker safety and comfort, and improving business outcomes.
Employers should prioritise workplace ergonomics by analysing work tasks, identifying risks, and implementing solutions to reduce these risks.
Employers in the UK are also required to assess the risks of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and take steps to reduce those risks.
There are specific regulations that address ergonomics in the workplace, such as the DSE Regulations and the Manual Handling Operations Regulations, that require employers to provide ergonomic workstations and to train employees on proper posture and lifting techniques.
Neathouse Partners can help you to manage or meet your employer’s responsibilities relating to Health & Safety regarding workplace ergonomics, risk assessments, training, policies and best practice.
Talk to our specialist HR and employment law advisers for assistance in creating a safe and healthy work environment for all staff.
Contact us on 01244 893776 to book a free, no-obligation call with one of our experienced team.