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Technically Speaking Home >> Applications >> Ergonomic Workstations Prevent Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Ergonomic Workstations Prevent Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders

By Paul Sarcinello - November 13th, 2018



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Have you ever heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? This can certainly be applied to the proper design of a workstation, and for that matter, the design of flow racks, carts, manual production systems, and lean manufacturing cells. The focus of this article will be directed toward ergonomic workstations, and the critical role properly designed workstations play to stem the rising tide of costly musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace.

What is a Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD)?

A musculoskeletal disorder is defined as an injury or pain in the human musculoskeletal system including joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves, and structures that support limbs, neck, and back. In a workplace setting, musculoskeletal disorders are primarily the result of stresses placed upon various body parts during the performance of work-related tasks. Repetitive-motion injury is a term often used to refer to musculoskeletal disorders, however, this can be a bit misleading as repetitive motion is but one of several ergonomic risk factors used to identify activities potentially leading to musculoskeletal disorders.

What Ergonomic Risk Factors Are Associated with Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Ergonomic risk factors are workplace stressors that are likely to contribute to the development of a musculoskeletal disorder. The primary risk factors pertain to repetition, force, and posture.

  • Repetition - A work cycle that requires less than thirty seconds to complete is considered to be highly repetitive, thereby placing the worker at greater risk.
  • Force - The degree of exertion required to complete the task which is determined by the forces and loads associated with the task. The excessive force required to lift, push, pull, or move heavy objects increases the risk for an MSD.
  • Posture - A more awkward position translates to a greater risk for potential pain or injury, especially if the position must be sustained for a longer period of time without relief. A position that requires movements extending beyond the “mid-range” motion point for a joint puts a worker at greater risk.

Examples of Musculoskeletal Disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders are a leading cause of pain, suffering, and disability. They are also the most common and costly injury category in this country with estimates exceeding $120 billion annually. Workers afflicted with an MSD are likely to be less motivated, less productive, and have higher rates of absenteeism.

Some of the many types of MSDs include:
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
  • Tendonitis
  • Ligament Sprains
  • Arthritis
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Herniated / Ruptured Disc
  • Tension Neck Syndrome
  • Trigger Finger / Thumb

The Negative Impact of MSDs on Businesses and Their Employees

  • 350,000 work-related musculoskeletal disorder cases recorded in 2016
  • 290.8 million lost workdays to back and neck pain recorded in 2012 according to the US Bone & Joint Initiative
  • $20 billion in direct cost and indirect costs estimated to be upwards of $100 billion dollars annually according to Bureau of Labor & Statistics(BLS)
  • One-third of workers’ compensation costs attributed to MSD
  • 38% more time required to rehabilitate an MSD versus the average work-related injury
  • Conservative estimates put the average cost of an MSD between $8K and $15K

Does My Company Need Ergonomic Workstations?

Ergonomic workstations take into account worker well-being to eliminate the risk factors associated with musculoskeletal disorders. An ergonomic workstation is designed to fit the person using it, but unfortunately, many employers fail to consider ergonomics and simply fit the person to the workstation. Poorly designed workstations are a common sight in office and factory floor environments and subject the user to undesirable straining, tension, and awkward postures. Ask yourself the questions below to see if your company and employees would benefit from ergonomic workstations.
  • How many of my company’s workers’ compensation claims are MSD related? At what cost?
  • How many work days are lost due to MSDs? At what cost?
  • What impacts are MSDs having on my insurance and workers’ compensation premiums? Has our Experience Modification Rating (EMR), a factor used to calculate workers’ compensation premiums, been negatively affected by MSDs?
  • How much more must we sell to cover these MSD-related expenses? OSHA Occupational Injuries Cost Estimator
  • Is my company aspiring to gain ISO45001 certification, which requires a holistic approach to worker health and safety, including MSD-related risk assessments and ergonomic remedies for identified risks?
  • Does my company comply with OSHA 29 CFR 1910.900? This standard contains rigorous requirements for all general industry employers to identify and mitigate the risks leading to work-related MSDs.
A rudimentary ergonomic assessment form offered by OSHA might be used during the discovery phase of workplace ergonomic initiative. A number of commercially available advanced risk assessment tools that can prioritize the risks are available for sale. These tools enable the user to quantify the possibility of on an MSD developing, based upon the observed and recorded risks.

How to Design an Ergonomic Workstation

Mitigating the risks associated with MSDs is best accomplished by preventing these risks through design. Poorly designed workstations can be found in office settings, laboratories, and on the production floor. Upon completion of the risk assessment and prioritization tasks, workstations determined to be ergonomically inadequate or deficient should be redesigned and reconfigured according to existing standards including EN ISO 6385:2016.

The eight principles of ergonomic design are outlined in the ISO 6385:2016 standard and are available for sale from ISO. Workstation design should also take into consideration OSHA standard, 29 CFR 1910.900 which was implemented to protect workers at risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder during the performance of their job tasks.

Bosch Rexroth offers a powerful design tool, MTpro for use in the design of ergonomic workstations. Several versions of the software are available, but the full version has a “ManModel” function which provides design simulation capabilities. Designs can be configured with the perfect reach zone, the ideal angle of vision, and the proper distance to equipment. Female and male models available in a variety of sizes can be configured in seating, standing, or walking positions.

Benefits from the Use of Ergonomic Workstations

  • A reduction in work-related musculoskeletal disorders
  • Increased productivity through workstation design improvement
  • Significant reduction in lost work time and absenteeism
  • Significant reduction in worker’s compensation claims and costs
  • Slows the pace of insurance premium increases
  • Reduction in employee turnover
  • Ability to attract new employees in an increasingly competitive hiring environment
  • Increase in employee morale and motivation cultivated by a corporate culture embracing worker safety, health and well-being