What is Ergonomics?

The literal translation of the word ergonomics is “the study of work”More specifically, it refers to the most effective way to design the work area and conduct certain job tasks, how those job tasks can lead to injury if performed improperly, and how to prevent injuries due to overexertion or repetitive motion in the workplace.

Who is affected by Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is an issue that affects all workers, regardless of whether they work in an office, laboratory, clinical space, or in a position where physical manual handling is performed. All workers are subject to injuries resulting from overexertion, awkward positioning, or repetitive motion. The aim of the Weill Cornell Medicine EHS Ergonomics Program is to reduce the number of injuries related to ergonomics for all members of the campus community.

What kinds of injuries are related to Ergonomics?

Ergonomics-related injuries can result in Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs). MSDs can occur in many different locations in your body but primarily occur in nerves, tendons, joints, ligaments, or spinal discs. Injuries to these locations often are the result of small cumulative incidents or repetitive motions to those areas. Some of these are specific to certain areas and symptoms, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, while others, such as low back pain, are more general and can have a number of different causes and symptoms.

What are the major Ergonomic Risk Factors?

Tasks that involve these activities pose an increased risk of developing a Musculoskeletal Disorder:

  • Repetitive motion
  • Forceful exertion
  • Awkward positions or movements
  • Contact stress
  • Application of force
  • Vibration
  • Temperature extremes

The risk of injury from these risk factors is not always readily apparent, but it is always present.

How do I know if I am having issues related to Ergonomics?

Ergonomic issues can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. If you are experiencing generalized pain in any of these areas, you may have ergonomic issues and should schedule an ergonomic assessment:

  • Wrists
  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Back
  • Neck

If you are experiencing any of the following issues, you should be evaluated by Workforce Health and Safety, as they may be indicative of more serious issues:

  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Loss of strength or coordination
  • Sprain or severe strain

How does an Ergonomics evaluation work?

If you schedule an ergonomics evaluation, a member of the EHS team will come by to evaluate your workstation. EHS will look at your chair, equipment (e.g., keyboard or monitor if you’re working in an office), and other aspects of your work tasks to determine if and where any ergonomic risk factors are present. The EHS staff member performing the evaluation would observe your work tasks and will make adjustments, if applicable, where they see fit.

After the assessment, the evaluator will provide tips on how to work in ways that minimize risk factors and possibly help alleviate any pain or discomfort you might be experiencing. If your issues relate to the equipment being used, EHS can provide recommendations for ergonomic equipment as well.

How can I request an Ergonomics evaluation?

Ergonomics evaluations can be scheduled via the ServiceNow system. Simply create a ticket requesting an ergonomics evaluation, and a member of the EHS staff will contact you to schedule the evaluation. You can create a ServiceNow ticket here.

What if I want to perform my own evaluation?

The EHS ergonomics website contains checklists specifically designed for self-evaluation of your office or laboratory workstation. These checklists contain basic tips on how to optimize your workstation to minimize risk factors and reduce the chance of an ergonomics injury. These checklists are only a guide, and are not designed to be a substitution for the more thorough EHS ergonomics evaluation.

What does it mean when equipment says ‘ergonomic’?

Many pieces of office or laboratory equipment advertise themselves as ‘ergonomic’. Typically, this means that they are designed with regard to optimal ergonomic use. However, as there is no standard for what products can be labeled as ‘ergonomic’, this can mean many different things. EHS can help advise as to the best equipment to use in your area.

What should I look for in a new chair?

As many office workers are seated for much of the day, it is important that they are using proper chairs with adjustable features to maximize comfort and support. Office chairs come with all sorts of adjustable features designed for ergonomic optimization. If you are looking for a new office chair, be sure to obtain one with adjustable height, seat pan depth, lumbar support, armrest height, and a lockable back to ensure you sit upright. These can increase comfort and reduce the risk of injury from sitting all day. Many chair manufacturers provide manuals or instructional videos on how to properly adjust the chair, so be sure to seek those out if and when you obtain a new office chair.

Am I required to implement ergonomic changes from my EHS evaluation?

EHS ergonomic evaluations are only recommendations and are not binding by any means. You may change your workstation as you see fit, provided you are in compliance with laboratory safety, fire safety, and other safety policies and regulations. Remember that it is a good idea to use the tools provided to you to help guide you in optimizing your workstation.

How can I obtain Ergonomic furniture and equipment?

Most ergonomic equipment is obtained through your department’s purchasing personnel. W.B. Mason (WCM’s office supply provider) has ergonomic equipment for computers, and many laboratory suppliers carry ergonomic equipment as well.

The purchasing of certain ergonomic equipment, such as standing desks, may be beyond the realm of your department’s purchasing personnel. If you have a legitimate medical need as diagnosed by a doctor for this equipment, you should file an ADA Reasonable Accommodation Request through Human Resources. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment to help a person with a disability perform the essential functions of a job. The request is a collaborative effort between Cigna, you, your department, and the Employee Relations Office to discuss the need for an accommodation, as well as identify possible accommodation solutions. It does not guarantee specific equipment, but rather allows for you to have the necessary equipment to do your job effectively. You can find more information on Disability Accommodation and filing of ADA Accommodation Requests through Human Resources here.

Are back belts or braces effective in preventing back injuries?

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) there is no scientific evidence that either supports or refutes the effectiveness of back belts or braces in preventing injuries. However, NIOSH does not recommend the use of back belts or braces by individuals who do not have a history of back injuries. Back belts or braces may in fact give the user a false sense of security that may result in lifting a weight that is beyond his or her capability.

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