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Ergonomics in the workplace

Ergonomics is the science of adapting the workplace to the worker and the product to the user.

You are at risk of developing musculoskeletal injuries (MSI) when you carry out work without first considering how the workplace suits you. This can lead to disabling conditions if not recognized and treated in the early stages. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, Sections 4.46 – 4.53, require employers to set up an Ergonomics program at their workplace.

First and foremost, employers should consult with their workers and the OHS committee. The consultation process is most beneficial if it is carried out before a workspace changes or during the preliminary setup stages of a new workspace. A risk assessment must be conducted to identify which workers may be at risk of receiving a musculoskeletal injury. Risk factors that must be considered include:

  • The amount of force required to carry out tasks
  • The duration and frequency of these tasks
  • Contact stresses or awkward postures 
  • The size, shape and weight of handled objects
  • The layout of workstations
  • How often workers are required to reach 
  • Environmental conditions 

Other risk factors to consider include: the ability of the worker to vary their task, the work rate and how much recovery time there is between tasks. 

Once the risk assessment is completed and the employer has identified where the risks of injury are, the employer must then mitigate this risk by implementing control measures to protect the worker. The first step in this hierarchy of control measures is to eliminate the risk. If the risk cannot be eliminated, the employer must minimize this risk by substituting a safer process to protect the worker. If that is not sufficient to protect the worker, engineering a change to tools or the workspace must be considered.  Administrative controls could be implemented to change the staffing mix or to provide extra training. The last control measure the employer should consider is to provide personal protective equipment. This is a last resort and the least preferred control measure.

As a worker you have the right to be educated and properly trained to identify ergonomic risks, to recognize the early signs of MSI’s and to learn about the potential health effects. You must be trained to use safe work procedures and to correctly use mechanical aids and personal protective equipment. 

If you feel you are at risk of a musculoskeletal injury, you have the right to ask for an ergonomic assessment and the employer must provide you with this assessment. There is a definite link between poor work ergonomics and worker’s satisfaction and performance. A workplace without an effective ergonomic program can cause workers to suffer physical and emotional stress. This results in low productivity and poor quality of work. A proactive employer can help to support a positive working environment by ensuring an effective ergonomics program is in place and reviewed on an annual basis.

The BCGEU offers OHS courses in ergonomic assessment for direct government workers as well as workers covered under labour code agreements. Ensure you protect yourself from a musculoskeletal injury. Get educated about workplace ergonomics and your health and safety rights.

For more information, contact the BCGEU OHS department at [email protected] or call 604-291-9611.