Ergonomics is commonly understood when it refers to the workstation setup and the body’s posture in the office. But when your “office” is outdoors or in a warehouse, ergonomics can be the difference between safety and serious injury. Employees who lift heavy objects or spend long hours on their feet can be at a higher risk of workplace injury, especially if they don’t practice correct body mechanics. In fact, 30% of the days missed from work in 2018 were due to ergonomics complications. Practicing ergonomically optimum postures can help protect workers from both overuse and acute injuries.
What is the ergonomically optimum body posture in physically demanding jobs?
Proper body mechanics can help ease strain and make tasks at work easier, safer, and more efficient. Physically demanding jobs like nursing, railroad working, landscaping, and construction can overtax employees’ bodies and increase their risk for overuse injuries. This is especially true if employees don’t use ergonomically optimum body mechanics. In general, positions that align the spine in a neutral position can protect employees from overuse injuries at work.
An optimum ergonomic body posture can depend on the job and its responsibilities. The following postures, separated by task, can help prevent injuries in physically demanding environments.
Ergonomically optimum postures when lifting heavy objects
Lifting boxes or equipment can place extra pressure on the spine, arms and legs. Without proper posture, lifting a heavy object could significantly strain a worker’s muscles and tendons, or damage the discs and ligaments within the spine. It could also cause significant joint damage to the wrists, elbows and shoulders. To help prevent long-lasting injuries, employees can follow these steps when lifting heavy objects:
- Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart.
- Hinge at the hips while maintaining a neutral spine (normal spinal curves) and activating your glutes (buttocks muscles).
- Bend your knees while keeping your knees in line with and behind your toes.
- Lift while engaging your leg and core muscles.
- Lift the object close to your body.
- Avoid twisting or bending.
Ergonomically optimum postures when standing for long periods of time
Occupations like nursing require workers to constantly be on their feet. Adopting incorrect body mechanics while standing throughout the day can lead to fatigue, neck pain and back pain. Meanwhile, practicing optimum ergonomic positions can help relieve bodily stress and tension. The following tips can help employees maintain an ergonomically optimal posture while standing for long hours:
- Make sure your hips and ankles align.
- Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart.
- Keep your weight balanced between and slightly forward on your feet, not back on your heels or shifted to one side.
- Keep your knees slightly bent, not locked.
- Let your arms hang down naturally, thumbs pointing forward, unless you are performing a task.
- Keep your back straight and stand up to your full height.
- Keep your head level.
- Shift your weight — back and forth from your heels to your toes, and side to side or in small circles — when you feel tired or strained.
Ergonomically optimum postures for operating heavy machinery
Employees who operate heavy machinery are constantly in physically demanding environments. As such, they often experience injuries due to assuming awkward postures during daily tasks. For example, drivers may bend or twist their back for better visibility while operating machinery. Many aspects of operating heavy machinery can be unavoidable, such as exposure to prolonged vibration. However, employees can try to control their posture to maintain a healthy work environment. To avoid injuries, employees can do the following while operating heavy machinery:
- Make sure your upper limbs are in a relaxed position and that all controls are within easy reach.
- Make sure your legs fit comfortably beneath the steering wheel.
- Make sure your feet touch the floor.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and your breastbone lifted to support proper spine position.
- Make sure your chair adequately supports your lower back, or add a small towel or lumbar roll to help.
- Adjust your mirrors to the best of your ability to avoid twisting for visibility.
- When you do have to turn around in your seat for visibility, try shifting your weight to slightly turn in your seat. This helps avoid extreme rotation in your neck or torso.
Work-Fit can help you find an ergonomically optimum posture for your job
If you work in a physically demanding job, maintaining ergonomically optimum body postures can be crucial to preventing injury. Our team at Work-Fit can bring ergonomics and body mechanics education programs to your workplace. Contact our team today for more information about our services or to learn how we can help your team.