Ergonomics means “the study of work.” The objective of ergonomics is to adapt the job and workplace to the worker by designing tasks, work stations, tools, and equipment within a worker’s physical capabilities and limitations. Rather than forcing a person to fit into a job, adapting the task to fit the worker can reduce ergonomic stress and eliminate many potential ergonomic disorders. Injuries resulting from tasks that require a high level of repetitive motion, also known as Repetitive Motion Injuries (RMI), can be very debilitating to an employee and should be avoided.

These types of injuries are also referred to as cumulative trauma disorders (CTD) or repetitive motion disorders and are injuries to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Tendons and muscles in the upper extremities and hands are the most commonly affected body regions. Fatigue or tiredness in muscles and/or joints is the body’s way of telling you to change your pattern of working. Doing the same motion repeatedly or using certain types of positions or grips can cause pain and inflammation.

In the Work Environment

In the manufacturing environment, ergonomics and reducing or preventing repetitive motion injuries are key challenges. Implementing safeguards, as well as administrative and engineering controls, can reduce worker injuries. Manual manufacturing processes have been replaced with state-of-the-art automated equipment, and yet a surprising number of manual operations are still required for many manufacturing applications. Not all hand operations can be performed efficiently with a pneumatic tool, but whenever possible, use a foot switch to provide better results.

Preventative Measures

More than half of all U.S. workers are susceptible to injury when work requires tasks that involve highly repetitive motions. Anyone whose job demands a lot of repetitive wrist, hand, and arm motion, might be a potential victim of an RMI. So what steps can be taken to curb or limit an employee’s exposure to highly repetitive tasks?

  • Maintain good body posture.
  • Periodic walk-through surveys, or whenever a job task changes.
  • Complete a job analysis for all “at risk” positions.
  • Train employees with an ergonomic professional or health care provider.
  • Report early signs and symptoms of a complication to a manager.
  • Encourage employees to take micro-breaks and stretch.
  • Implement a job rotation schedule.
  • Use mechanical assists and implement engineering controls wherever possible.
  • Try to eliminate or reduce overtime work.

By following the above preventative measures, you can reduce and even prevent the RMI and CTD in your workplace.