Ergonomics at Work

At its core, ergonomics is the science of fitting the task to the worker, not the worker to the task.

OSHA estimates employers spend $20 billion a year on work-related musculoskeletal disorders caused by lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling loads, working in awkward body postures and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively.

Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSD)

While automation in the workplace can improve quality and productivity, many of the manual tasks that remain are repetitive. Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs) are injuries and disorders of soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints and the nervous system caused by repetitive motions. WMSDs frequently involve arms, wrists, hands and back and account for 34% of all lost workday injuries and illnesses annually. For more information visit: or

Below are occupational risk factors and symptoms of the most common upper body WMSDs.

Disorders Occupational risk factors Symptoms
Tendonitis/tenosynovitis Repetitive wrist or shoulder motions
Consistent hyper extension of arms
Shouldering loads for length of time
Pain, weakness, swelling, burning sensation or dull ache
Epicondylitis (elbow tendonitis) Repeated rotation of the forearm and bending of the wrist at the same time Pain, weakness, swelling, burning sensation or dull ache
Carpal tunnel syndrome Repetitive wrist motions Pain, numbness, tingling, burning sensations, wasting of muscles at base of thumb, dry palms
DeQuervain’s disease Forceful gripping and continuous twisting of the hand Pain at the base of thumb
Thoracic outlet syndrome Prolonged shoulder flexion
Reaching arms above shoulder height
Shouldering loads for length of time
Pain, numbness, swelling of the hands
Tension neck syndrome Prolonged restricted or unnatural posture Pain

Comfort and productivity can be significantly improved if the ergonomic reach of the operator is considered when designing a workstation. The green zone is for high-use items; the blue zone for medium-use items; and the purple zone for occasional-use items and storage. For more information on ergonomic reach zones, visit: Applied Ergonomics Conference 2004: Using Design and Build Guidelines to Reduce Ergonomic Risk and OSEH Guide to Ergonomics and The Human Solution.


Workforce Diversity

Workforce Diversity has put an end to the “one size fits all” approach and made designing workstations for the “average” worker obsolete. Properly designed workstations should accommodate 5th to 95th percentile users or 90 percent of operators. This alone can increase productivity up to 25% over traditional fixed workstations by reducing unnecessary motion. For more information visit Anthropometry and Workspace Design.



ANSI/HSF 100-1988

American National Standards Institute /Human Factors Engineering (ANSI/HFS 100-1988) guidelines were established to ensure proper leg clearance and adjustability for seated operators. These guidelines provide the groundwork for optimal ergonomic design for operator comfort, productivity and safety. For more information visit: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.


Helpful Ergonomic Resources
Plan Your Workstation

For guidelines on how to incorporate ergonomic principles into workstation design go to Plan Your Workstation.

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