Work involving the manual handling of materials contributes significantly to half-million cases of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that are reported annually in the United States. These are the injuries to the lower back, shoulders and upper limbs that can be extremely painful and costly. The Division of Occupational Safety and Health or the California Department of Industrial Relations (Cal/OSHA) published a booklet in April that details ergonomic interventions known to be extremely effective in reducing the incidence of the disorders.
“Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling,” which can be found on the website of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, points out that the physical pain of MSDs might be the employee’s alone, but, financially, employers often feel the biggest pinch. For employers they represent lost work time, medical expenses and worker’s compensation payments. Collectively, MSDs undermine productivity, product quality and overall business competitiveness, according to the booklet.
It states that scientific evidence shows the recommended ergonomic interventions can lower the demands of manual materials handling (MMH) tasks, thereby lowering the incidence and severity of the MSDs. And there are other benefits, according to the booklet: “Very often productivity gets an additional and solid shot in the arm when managers and workers take a fresh look at how best to use energy, equipment and exertion to get the job done in the most efficient, effective, and effortless way possible. Planning that applies these principles can result in big wins for all concerned.”
The recommendations include:
- Eliminating lifting from the floor and using simple transport devices like carts or dollies
- Using lift-assist devices like scissors lift tables or load levelers
- Using more sophisticated equipment like powered stackers, hoists, cranes, or vacuum assist devices
- Guiding your choice of equipment by analyzing and redesigning work stations and workflow
This booklet helps employers and employees recognize high-risk MMH tasks and choose options for reducing their physical demands, according to its authors.
Source: NIOSH; Cal/OSH