Ergonomics for contractors
Workers performing jobs that require any physical movement may be subject to ergonomic hazards, which are exposures that can lead to injury and illness. Contractors, such as those involved in construction, flooring, drywall, painting, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, woodworking, concrete, and masonry, are particularly at risk due to the physical nature of their jobs.
What are ergonomics?
Ergonomics involves fitting a job to a person to prevent awkward body positioning or movements that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workers in various industries may perform tasks such as lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward body postures, and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively. Any of these tasks can lead to injuries and MSDs, so it is an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe work environment by controlling ergonomic hazards.
Common ergonomic hazards experienced by contractors
- Heavy, frequent, or awkward lifting
- Repetitive tasks (e.g., hammering)
- Postures using excessive force
- Hand-intensive work
- Improperly adjusted workstations and chairs
- Kneeling for extended periods
- Repetitive bending and reaching
- Poor posture
Examples of ergonomic controls
- Use a device to lift and reposition heavy objects to limit force exertion
- Reduce the weight of a load
- Require two people to lift heavy loads
- Reposition a work table to eliminate excessive reach
- Redesign tools to enable neutral postures
- Use a job rotation system where workers rotate between jobs that use different muscle groups
- Properly use and maintain pneumatic and power tools
- Use padding to reduce direct contact with hard, sharp, or vibrating surfaces
- Provide knee pads or ergonomic mats for kneeling
- Wear a back brace to support the body when lifting objects
How to protect employees from injury and illness
OSHA outlined the major components of the ergonomic process, which may guide employers in controlling workplace hazards:
- Provide management support – Define clear goals and objectives for the ergonomic process, discuss them with workers, assign responsibilities to designated staff members, and communicate clearly with the workforce
- Involve workers – Encourage employees to participate in worksite assessments, solution development, and implementation to improve workplace safety and health
- Provide training - Training ensures that workers are aware of ergonomics and its benefits, become informed about ergonomics-related concerns and understand the importance of reporting early symptoms of MSDs
- Identify problems - Recognize and assess ergonomic problems in the workplace before they result in MSDs
- Encourage early reporting of MSD symptoms - Early reporting can accelerate the job assessment and improvement process, helping to prevent or reduce the progression of symptoms, the development of serious injuries, and subsequent lost-time claims
- Implement solutions to control hazards - Many possible solutions can be implemented to reduce, control, or eliminate workplace MSDs
- Evaluate progress - Established evaluation and corrective action procedures are required to assess the effectiveness of the ergonomic process periodically and to ensure its continuous improvement and long-term success
For more information on ergonomics and workplace safety, visit OSHA’s website at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/.
By: Libby Burgher
Risk Solution Services Specialist
Sources: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR)
*Markel Specialty is a business division of Markel Service, Incorporated, the underwriting manager for the Markel affiliated insurance companies.