Skip to content

A Collaborative Approach to Ergonomic Risk Management in the workplace

Ergonomic Risk Factors

Some of the known factors associated with ergonomic risk are:

  • awkward body postures and/or existing physical limitations/conditions;
  • poorly designed workstations, equipment, machinery and tools not matched to the employee, including the effects of vibration and sudden impact forces;
  • poorly designed tasks, that is, factors such as an employee’s position, physical forces required and the design and placement of equipment;
  • work organisation factors which may contribute to demands placed on employee’s such as required output, duration and variation of tasks, number and duration of pauses and the urgency of deadlines;
  • inappropriate/poor arrangement of job design, for example, the requirement to perform repetitive movements, sedentary postures, and
  • new employees, or those returning to work after an extended absence, being required to perform repetitive movements without a period of adjustment.

Job Design and Redesign

Job design is an important key to reducing ergonomic risk, including conditions such as Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) or Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). The aim of job design is to take into account all the factors which are required to complete the work, and to design and arrange the work content and tasks to reduce foreseeable risk to the health and safety of the employee.

The manager/supervisor is to ensure that where reasonably practicable, single task, repetitive jobs are avoided or redesigned to eliminate such repetitive tasks, including:

  • Job design to include a mixture of repetitive and non-repetitive work.
  • Job rearrangement or redesign to encourage a number of varied activities and postures rather than sitting at one workstation.

An important element in job redesign is to avoid sequencing similar tasks consecutively.

Working Duration and Frequency

Similar tasks, repeated over long periods, may fatigue muscles and increase the risk of injury. The Manager/supervisor is to consider how often, and for how long, a task is performed and make any reasonable adjustments to ensure safety of the employee.

Managers/supervisors are to consult with employees where work rates need to be established to determine realistic and a safe working arrangement.

Employee performance varies between individuals and over time can be influenced by work and equipment factors. In determining safe work rates, some of the factors that need to be considered are:

  • physical variations between individuals;
  • skills, knowledge and experience of workers;
  • type of work and equipment;
  • introduction of new work and equipment;
  • efficiency of the work process;
  • duration of working time; and
  • the standard of work required.

Peak Demand Considerations

Many roles have predictable peak periods of intense work activity which may result in large variations in job demands and as a result people can often spend long hours at the computer, laboratory or other workplace.

The increased risks generated during these peak periods may be prevented by long term planning of resources and organisation of tasks. If possible, plan and pace the work and if necessary, set limits and expectations on how long people can remain at work during these periods. Also consider ensuring that people take their meal breaks, exercise breaks and sufficient water intake are adequate to prevent fatigue and musculoskeletal disorders developing.

Work Breaks

Rest breaks are to be provided where the job requires a sustained period of repetitive or static (holding or restraining) activity, and it is not possible to provide effective task variation. The exact length and frequency of such breaks will depend on the nature of the tasks which make up the job. Frequent short breaks, short periods of physical activity a few minutes every half hour are recommended rather than longer less frequent breaks.

Working Hours

Managers/Supervisors and employees need to be aware of the risk, and take appropriate risk mitigation actions, where work involves repetitive or forceful movement or both, and/or maintenance of constrained or awkward postures, especially when associated with extended working hours, such as overtime.

Workplace Layout

The Manager/Supervisor should consider the way the work is laid out for the employee, and the postures and physical demands of the task. Consider the heights of benches and whether items are in easy reach. People of different heights, ages and body dimensions may require different work layouts.

The Manager/Supervisor is to ensure that where a task can be effectively performed from a seated position that seating matched to the individual and task is provided and maintained.

Where the work cannot be performed effectively from a seated position and it is possible for employees to sit from time to time while performing the task, the Manager/Supervisor is to ensure that suitable seats are provided to enable employees to take advantage of these opportunities.

Posture should be varied between sitting and standing positions where possible to reduce the effects of tiredness and body fatigue.

The most appropriate work positions should be determined by consideration of:

  • the tasks that are performed;
  • the frequency and duration of tasks;
  • the materials, equipment and tools used;
  • the individuals physical variation;
  • the individual's ability to adopt a safe body posture.

Computer and Keyboard Use

A general ergonomic guide for regular computer and keyboard users can be found at https://www.utas.edu.au/safety-and-wellbeing/information-and-documents/risk-topics/ergonomics/workstation-design-and-set-up)

Responsibilities

Employees:

Employee’s must report any early signs of an ergonomic related injury to their manager/supervisor .

In some instances employees must be prepared to modify their work practices and environment in accordance with recommendations for corrective actions.

Managers/Supervisors:

Ensure risk management is applied within their area of responsibility.

They must as part of an employee’s induction discuss:

  • duties;
  • means of adapting the workstation to the individual’s requirements
  • the importance of discussing and reporting any discomfort or fatigue associated with the work