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1.1 Early Intervention

Ergonomics is the science of designing jobs, selecting tools, and modifying work methods to better fit workers' capabilities and prevent injury. This ergonomics program strives to reduce worker discomfort and WMSDs.

WMSDs usually develop gradually as a result of physically stressful, repetitive activity. Symptoms such as pain, numbness, and tingling in the upper extremities are often ignored until the condition becomes chronic or permanent injury occurs.

Early intervention is essential to quick recovery from and long-term prevention of WMSDs. An employee experiencing symptoms is encouraged to notify his or her supervisor, complete an Accident-Illness Report Form, and contact EH&S to schedule a workstation evaluation.

1.2 Prevention and Intervention Strategies

Once ergonomic hazards are identified through the systematic worksite evaluation or training, the next step is to devise a strategy to prevent or control these hazards. As with any control strategy, the most effective intervention is the reduction of risk.

Control Strategies

Risk control strategies include, in order of preference:

1. Engineering controls: These controls include purchasing equipment that fits the workplace to the worker in order to reduce awkward or static postures, repetitive motions, and use of excessive force.

2. Work practice controls: These controls include proper work techniques that improve posture and reduce stress and strain on the extremities. They also involve rotating tasks, stretching, and taking mini-breaks.

1.2.1 Stretching

Stretching is an integral part of reducing the risk of WMSDs. Stretches can be performed before work, at the workstation, and on mini-breaks. You should not feel pain while stretching. If you do feel pain which you believe is related to a workplace injury, stop immediately and contact the Occupational Health Nurse.

Suggested Exercises

If you are recovering from an injury, consult your physician or occupational therapist before doing the stretches shown in Figure VIII.1 below.

Stretch only until you feel resistance. Perform each of the following stretches 3-5 times at least twice a day. Hold each stretch for 1-5 seconds, then relax and repeat.

Figure VIII.1: Recommended Stretching Exercises


Figure VIII.1: Recommended Stretching Exercises
Figure VIII.1: Recommended Stretching Exercises

1.2.2 Mini-breaks

When keyboarding or performing another repetitive task, take a two-minute mini-break for every hour of work performed. Get away from your workstation, walk around, stretch, and give your eyes a break.

Mini-breaks are recommended to give a rest from repetitive tasks and aid in the recovery of workplace illnesses. Providing time for your body to recover from repetitive action is the key to avoiding a WMSD.

1.2.3 Task Rotation

If possible, rotate tasks during the day in order to reduce the amount of continuous time spent doing each activity.

1.3 Reporting Procedures

1.3.1 Accident and Illness Reporting

Employees are encouraged to report ergonomic problems to their supervisors promptly and to contact EH&S to schedule workstation evaluations. Prompt implementation of workplace changes can significantly reduce the potential for severe injuries or illnesses.

Supervisors are responsible for making sure all occupational injuries and illnesses are reported with an Accident-Illness Report Form. Complete an Accident-Illness Report Form as soon as symptoms appear. These forms should be available in each department.

Forms may also be obtained by calling EH&S. Mail the completed Accident-Illness Report Form to EH&S at J3-200. For more information, see Chapter I, Section 5, Accident-Illness Reporting.

1.3.2 Recordkeeping

An ergonomic database is maintained to track employee symptoms, workstation evaluation recommendations, information sent out, purchases made, and Accident-Illness Reports.

Any medical information collected during an evaluation or accident/illness investigation is kept confidential.

1.4 Training and Education

It is important to train and educate supervisors and employees about ergonomic risk factors.

Training enables supervisors and employees to identify ergonomic risk factors and provides ideas for prevention and control of WMSDs. EH&S offers training geared towards office and lab workers. Training on manual handling is offered as needed.

1.4.1 Online Ergonomic Training

All employees who work at a computer workstation are encouraged to take the online ergonomics training.

Online ergonomics training was developed as a resource to assist employees in setting up their work areas according to good ergonomic guidelines. The online training can help employees adjust their workstations with step-by-step instructions and guidelines, on their own time. The training takes about 30 minutes to complete.

Contact EH&S to review the Ergonomics Online Training.

1.4.2 Laboratory Ergonomics

Laboratory ergonomics training is available for departments by request.

This training addresses repetitive motions as well as awkward or static postures. Lab-specific suggestions are made for equipment and for working more efficiently.

1.4.3 Manual Handling

Manual Handling Training is available for departments by request.

Manual Handling educates employees on proper methods of lifting, and how to prevent back strain and repetitive strain injury. Discussion topics include handling heavy loads in awkward positions (e.g., above head level), and moving a variety of loads (patients, animals, boxes or items from a shelf) in numerous situations encountered at Fred Hutch.

1.5 Workstation Evaluation

For Fred Hutch employees with symptoms of a WMSD, a workstation evaluation will be performed at the request of the employee or supervisor.

Employees without symptoms of a WMSD who work at a computer workstation are encouraged to review the online ergonomics training. The online training can help the employee adjust his or her workstation with step-by-step instructions and guidelines (see Section 1.4.1, Online Ergonomics Training). After reviewing the online training, if there are still questions or concerns, the employee or supervisor can request a workstation evaluation.

The evaluation will focus on the physical configuration of the workstation and the employee's work habits with the goal of determining how to alleviate or reduce any workplace discomfort and preventing repetitive stress injuries. The affected employee's input and suggestions are sought throughout the process.

Ergonomic risk factors, such as repetitive motions, static exertions, forceful exertions, awkward postures (particularly of the arms, hands, and spine), and localized contact stresses will be assessed. The evaluator will propose solutions to eliminate or reduce risk factors found during the evaluation.

For employees of the Hutchinson Center, the supervisor and the employee will be sent a copy of the evaluation report with any recommendations.

The information gathered will also be retained in the EH&S ergonomic database (see Section 1.3.2, Recordkeeping).

1.5.1 One-on-One Office Area Evaluations

Conducting a one-on-one office area evaluation involves interviewing the employee and observing him or her perform typical job activities. Measurements are often taken of the work surface height, monitor height and viewing distance. Chair adjustability and functionality, keyboard and mouse arrangement, posture, lighting, placement of frequently used items, break scheduling, and workload are also examined.

1.5.2 One-on-One Lab Area Evaluations

Conducting a one-on-one lab area evaluation involves interviewing the employee and observing him or her performing their usual job activities. Repetition, duration, force, posture, workload and break scheduling are taken into account. Special attention is paid to repetitive pipetting and awkward postures.

1.5.3 Solutions to Eliminate or Reduce Risk Factors

EH&S works with the available equipment to the greatest extent possible. However, solutions sometimes involve the recommendation of new furniture or equipment. When a decision is made to purchase furniture or equipment for ergonomic accommodation, the employee is encouraged to test the product(s) before making a purchase. It is the individual department's responsibility to purchase furniture and equipment that is appropriate for the work being conducted.

1.5.4 Incorrect Use of Ergonomic Products

If used incorrectly, even new, ergonomically designed products can contribute to employee discomfort and possible injury. Therefore, training in ergonomic principles and how to apply them to the individual worksite is essential (see Section 1.4, Training and Education).

1.5.5 Testing Ergonomic Products

An employee may test ergonomic chairs in the ergonomic showroom. The ergonomic showroom can be attended by appointment with EH&S. An employee may also borrow an alternative mouse or other ergonomic products from EH&S. This gives employees an opportunity to test equipment and furniture for fit, usability and function.