Ergonomic related injuries in the workplace at White Sands Missile Range were significantly reduced fiscal year 2014 from the last fiscal year.
Occurrences were reduced from 17 in 2013 to five in 2014. An ergonomic subcommittee including members of the Safety Office and the Industrial Hygiene Office addresses individual ergonomics related incidents in the workplace and works to prevent future occurrences.
“Ergonomics tries to take work that people do, things that people have to do, and marry those up with the equipment they use,” said Ray Gruben, White Sands Missile Range Industrial Hygienist.
Rather than match the worker to the workplace, ergonomic studies concentrate on making the workplace more adaptable to the worker.
According to Gruben, the concept emerged after the technology developed during World War II was introduced to the civilian workforce.
“Sometime in the past, desks that were regular desks with typewriters on them now had a computer on top of them. The first problem is that those work stations don’t match how people are made – tall, small, or large. It’s a different type of work than what the desk was designed for,” said Gruben.
Members of the installation ergonomic subcommittee are trained to evaluate office ergonomics and gather information to spot any trends. The subcommittee meets with the Safety and Occupational Health Advisory Council semi-annually.
According to Gruben, the easiest way to avoid injuries is to adjust equipment to the employee to avoid strains and injuries.
Injuries can include carpal tunnel syndrome, back strains, upper arm pain, and other injuries.
Costs to the installation resulting from ergonomics related claims can extend further than workers’ compensation claims and can even result in early retirement.
“The injuries may seem small but they do put people out of work, actually. Full time engineers find themselves retiring early,” Gruben said. “There’s a certain medical and time loss cost plus loss of productivity, training a new person, and trying to do the work of another person when you lose somebody.”
Ergonomics cases are handled on an individual basis, and while not all solutions are simple there are things employees can do to adjust their workplace to their needs.
Adjustable equipment is the best equipment to have because it lends itself to a wider variety of heights and settings, but there are other ways to create a more comfortable setting when the equipment is not immediately available. For example, a book can be placed under a monitor to adjust its height while an adjustable monitor is purchased. An alternative to buying a costly adjustable desk can be to install blocks under the desk to give it a different height.
In addition, the ergonomic subcommittee has been established to address issues that may come up and try to prevent occurrences.
Currently, ergonomic claims are handled by the Industrial Hygiene Office and the Installation Safety Office. According to Gruben, he would like to have local individuals trained to handle claims in the future for a quicker response.
“Training for ergonomics awareness, we might see more people making ergonomics claims because they will be more aware of the fact that maybe that’s what is wrong. It’s not a bad thing. Knowing about them helps us prevent injuries,” Gruben said.