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The Role of Ergonomics in Preventing Workplace Injuries

Ergonomics can help workers stay healthy and efficient

Ergonomics is the science of designing the workplace to fit the worker. It plays an important role in preventing injuries, helping create safer and more efficient work environments, and improving overall productivity.

Work-related injuries are common in fast-paced work environments, especially in jobs that require repetitive motions, heavy lifting, or prolonged periods of sitting. A significant number of these injuries can be traced back to poor ergonomics.

Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that musculoskeletal disorders are often caused by inadequate ergonomics and account for nearly one-third of all work-related injuries and illnesses.

What are the key principles of workplace ergonomics?

Several fundamental principles guide ergonomic design and practice in the workplace, including:

  • Fitting the Job to the Worker: This principle involves adapting work tasks, equipment, and environments to match workers' physical and cognitive capabilities. By designing jobs that accommodate individual differences, it aims to prevent discomfort and injury.
  • Promoting neutral postures: Maintaining neutral body postures, where joints are naturally aligned, reduces the risk of strain and musculoskeletal injuries. Ergonomics encourages the use of adjustable workstations and tools that support neutral postures.
  • Minimizing repetitive motions: Repetitive tasks can lead to overuse injuries. Ergonomic interventions aim to reduce the frequency of repetitive motions by automating tasks, rotating job duties, and providing adequate breaks.
  • Reducing forceful exertions: Jobs requiring high levels of force can strain muscles and joints. Ergonomic solutions include using mechanical aids, redesigning tools, and ensuring proper body mechanics to reduce the need for excessive force.
  • Improving work environment: Good ergonomics also considers environmental factors such as lighting, noise, and temperature, which can affect comfort and performance. Properly designed work environments enhance worker well-being and productivity.

What are the most common ergonomic injuries in the workplace?

The most common injuries linked to poor ergonomics include:

Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs)

These injuries are among the most common ergonomic-related injuries in the workplace. They occur when the same motion is repeated frequently, causing damage to muscles, tendons, and nerves.

Examples of RSIs include:

  • Tendinitis: This is inflammation of the tendons, often seen in workers who perform repetitive tasks such as typing or assembly line work.
  • Epicondylitis: Also known as tennis elbow or golfer's elbow, this condition affects the tendons around the elbow due to repetitive motions or overuse.

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

These include several conditions that affect muscles, bones, and joints. They're typically caused by repetitive motions, overexertion, or maintaining awkward postures for extended periods.

Common MSDs include:

  • Back pain: A prevalent issue among workers who lift heavy objects or sit for long periods without proper support.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: A condition where the median nerve is compressed at the wrist, causing pain and numbness. This is common in jobs involving extensive computer use or repetitive hand movements.
  • Shoulder strain: Often seen in workers who perform overhead tasks or handle heavy loads, leading to muscle and tendon strain in the shoulder.

Other Ergonomic-Related Injuries

Beyond RSIs and MSDs, several other injuries can arise from poor ergonomic practices, including:

  • Neck strain: Common in workers who spend prolonged periods looking at screens or working in positions that strain the neck.
  • Eye strain: Employees who work at computers for long hours without adequate breaks or proper lighting often experience eye strain.
  • Lower limb disorders: These conditions affect the hips, knees, and feet, often due to standing for long periods, improper footwear, or poor workstation design.

How are ergonomic injuries diagnosed and treated?

The diagnostic process begins with a detailed review of your medical history and a discussion of your injury symptoms. A doctor might ask about the onset of pain, the nature of your work, and any specific activities that exacerbate your symptoms.

A thorough physical examination will likely follow this to assess the affected areas. This includes evaluating your range of motion, strength, and tenderness in muscles, tendons, and joints.

Depending on your symptoms, imaging tests such as X-rays, MRIs, or ultrasounds may be used to get a clearer view of the affected tissues and confirm the diagnosis. These tests can help identify inflammation, nerve compression, or other abnormalities.

In some cases, an ergonomic assessment of the workplace may be conducted to identify risk factors and improper work habits that could be contributing to the injury.

Treatment of ergonomic injuries typically includes:

  • Rest and activity modifications.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Massage therapy or acupuncture.
  • Chiropractic care.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Muscle relaxants or corticosteroid injections.
  • Workplace accommodations.
  • Bracing and support.
  • In severe cases, surgery.

How do I file a New York worker’s comp claim for an ergonomic injury?

To file a workers’ comp claim in New York, you must first notify your employer in writing within 30 days of recognizing your ergonomic injury. Failure to do so may result in a denial of your claim. Include specifics about how the injury occurred, the symptoms you're experiencing, and when you first noticed them.

You should also see a doctor as soon as possible and inform them that your injury is work-related. They can provide you with an accurate diagnosis that links your injury to your job.

Additionally, you’ll need to fill out Form C-3 and submit it to the New York Workers' Compensation Board. This form initiates your claim, but it must be filled out correctly. Any errors or missing information can result in your claim being delayed or denied.

Lastly, you should adhere to all legal and medical advice and avoid activities that can disprove your claim or worsen your condition.

Contact our New York workers’ comp lawyers if you suffered an injury on the job

Whether you’re a nurse, a construction worker, or an office employee, you deserve workers' compensation benefits if you were injured while on the job. However, the claims process can be complex, and many initial claims are denied in New York. That’s where the attorneys at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano LLP can make a difference.

Don’t let the complicated appeals process deter you from getting the benefits you deserve. Our dedicated workers' compensation lawyers will guide you through every step, from filing your claim to representing you at hearings. We can investigate your injury, gather medical and employment records, and build a strong case to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve for your recovery.

Our firm has been fighting for injured workers in New York for decades, and we know what it takes to win. Contact us today for a free, confidential evaluation.

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