When most people hear “ergonomics,” they think of office workers in cubicles. But ergonomics – designing or modifying the working environment for the worker’s health and comfort – is crucial to the construction industry, too.
One of the biggest problems with ergonomic injuries is that they can go unnoticed for a long time … until they become debilitating. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 40% of construction workers say “working hurt” is a major problem. You know these guys and gals are a tough group -- many of them strain and hurt themselves in ways that are not obvious or catastrophic, but might not say anything to a supervisor until the pain is unbearable.
Luckily, building good ergonomic practices can prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders. But you can’t practice “good ergonomics” without first identifying every potential ergonomic hazard in construction sites your company works at.
Danger! 5 Ergonomics Hazards in Construction
Because of the physicality of the work, construction ergonomics present different challenges than the standard 9-5 desk job.
The most common roadblocks to safety are:
- Heavy lifting
- Awkward grips and postures
- Repetitive tasks
- Using the wrong tools
- Using poorly maintained tools
- Working on hard surfaces
1. Heavy Lifting
Many construction tools and materials are a challenge to lift -- weaklings need not apply. Just about everything on site seems to be heavy. Lifting 50-plus lbs. is hard on the body over time – especially if you’re doing it wrong.
Heavy lids and other hinged equipment have been the source of not only sore backs, but broken fingers and concussions as well. Many companies use counterbalanced and motion-controlled lids and doors on their equipment. These technologies can reduce the weight of lids and other hinged devices from 100 lbs. to 10 lbs. -- or less.
There are other tools and devices that minimize construction hazards, from basic levers to more advanced tools like ergonomic pallet lifts and impact guns.
The occasional use of heavy force or exertion is unavoidable. It goes without saying, but all construction workers absolutely need training on proper lifting techniques.
2. Awkward Grips & Posture
Lifting an awkwardly shaped or positioned object turns a worker’s back into a ticking time bomb.
Trying to hold onto tools or other objects with awkward grips is not only exhausting, but also can lead to hand and joint injuries. And contorting your body awkwardly to reach something or apply force is a recipe for various injuries.
Workers should use tools that allow them to hold their wrists straight. Jigs and tooling fixtures are a must for minimizing awkward posture.
3. Repetitive Tasks
Construction and industrial workers often have to perform the same lift over and over … and over.
When you have to perform a task hundreds or thousands of times, it can cause excessive wear and tear on your joints. It sounds silly, but even the most basic movements, like unpacking fasteners every day, can cause repetitive-stress injuries.
Construction work is especially hand-intensive. The human hand is an impressive piece of engineering, but all those little muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and joints can only hold up to so much repetitive use. Your crew should take advantage of grips and gloves whenever possible to protect their hands during intensive work.
4. Wrong Tools; Wrong Training
Home mechanics may need to improvise with the tools at hand, but professional construction sites should have the right tools for the job at all times. Otherwise, workers are apt to needlessly hurt themselves.
A construction worker is more likely to use the right tool -- and the right way -- with proper training. Don’t leave it up to the employee to figure out.
5. Using Poorly Maintained Tools
Most tools require some level of maintenance, even if it’s just applying some grease once in a while.
If tools aren’t maintained, they’re at risk of causing another senseless injury. Busy or not, your team needs to stick to a scheduled maintenance plan for tools and equipment.
6. Hard Surfaces
Working on your knees on concrete or other hard surfaces becomes soul-crushing after a while. Done for yours, it can destroy your health, too.
Workers should wear protective gear like kneepads if they have to kneel. If you can swing it, bring the work up to their level with an ergonomic power lift or work table.
Best for Both Sides
Proper ergonomics in construction is a two-way avenue. By giving employees the right equipment, and with them following best practices, both sides benefit. The crew will stay happy and productive, and you’ll keep your best employees on the job longer while avoiding worker’s comp claims.
To learn more about ergonomic solutions for the construction industry, ask an engineer your question below: