April 13, 2021 | Health System Risk Management


Ergonomics is the science of fitting the workplace—tools, equipment, job demands—to the worker, rather than forcing the worker to adapt to the job. Factors such as poor workplace design, working in awkward or stationary positions, performing repetitive tasks, lifting heavy or awkward items, or using excessive force to perform tasks can lead to poor job performance and cause work-related MSDs. Physical ergonomics, as opposed to cognitive ergonomics, focuses on the physical aspects of the job, rather than mental and perceptual aspects of a job. Physical ergonomics identifies which aspects of a job cause or contribute to MSDs, and then redesigns the work conditions to minimize or eliminate MSD risk factors.

Ergonomics as a discipline emerged during World War II and draws on disciplines such as anatomy, physiology, psychology, industrial medicine, industrial hygiene, design engineering, architecture, and illumination engineering (Wilson).

While the Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS) only began reporting data on work-related MSDs in 1993 (OSHA "Preamble"), it is not surprising that basic ergonomic principles were understood as long ago as Hippocrates ("Ergonomics in Ancient Greece") because many involve common sense. Consider such conventional wisdom as, "If it hurts to do something, stop doing it or try to do it in another way," or "If standing a certain way hurts, change position." The difference, however, is that many high-pressure work environments, including healthcare, do not always give the worker those options.

A number of medical diagnoses are covered by the umbrella term MSD, including the following:

Today's healthcare workers' backs, shoulders, hands, wrists, arms, and legs may be subjected to hundreds if not thousands of forceful exertions, repetitive twisting or flexing motions, and more during a typical workday. In addition to the well-known hazards associated with heavy lifting (whether of patients, large loads of laundry, or heavy machinery), surgical staff often stand for long periods in awkward positions. Laboratory workers doing routine procedures such as pipetting or using microscopes also may assume awkward...

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