Designing workplaces and processes to suit the human body helps to prevent MSIs by reducing risk factors. Remember that everyone differs in size, shape, strength and agility.

Good workplace design and practices, well maintained equipment, basic ergonomic training for all staff and brief but frequent breaks greatly reduce the risk of an MSI. When trying to eliminate or reduce the cause of an existing MSI:

  • look for all risk factors
  • include employee input at all stages
  • evaluate each solution
  • consider many possible solutions, even if some seem “far out”
  • implement the best one
  • provide appropriate training
  • do periodic follow-up
  • make additional changes as needed

Applying ergonomic principles in the workplace

Apply ergonomic principles in workplace design, renovations and purchases, using:

  • lifting devices (e.g., hoists, suction or electromagnetic lifts), roller or air conveyors, load levelling devices, turntables, carts, dollies, skids, spring-loaded false bottoms in carts, height adjustable work surfaces, etc.)
  • work surface heights so that hands are 5-10 cm below elbow height for light work, 4-6 cm above elbows for precision work and 20-40 cm below for heavy or forceful tasks
  • adjustable work surface heights or the use of work platforms to accomodate different worker heights
  • shelves at approximately waist height, or between knuckle and shoulder height, for storing heavy items (avoid storing items on the floor or very low shelves)
  • tool balancers for heavy hand-tools
  • ergonomically designed tools
  • padding on tool handles
  • boxes, bags, etc. weighing as little as reasonably possible
  • light plastic pallets

How employers can reduce the risk

  • Educate employees about risk factors and early warning signs
  • Encourage early reporting of symptoms
  • Investigate causes of MSIs
  • Use symptoms surveys’ to identify problems
  • Keep equipment well maintained and cutting tools sharp
  • Use job rotation or task variation
  • Consider modifying tasks that involve:
    • repeated lifting, pushing, pulling or repetitive trigger-finger actions
    • prolonged use of heavy or vibrating tools and tools with very small or large hand grips
    • a bent or twisted wrist, back or neck
    • elbows raised or hands above head
    • long or repeated reaches, forearm rotations or pinch grips
    • prolonged pressure on hands, wrists, elbows, arms or legs

How workers can reduce the risk

  • Avoid prolonged sitting by taking periodic walk breaks
  • Alternate between sitting and standing when possible
  • Use footrests and anti-fatigue mats for prolonged standing (e.g. three hours), and use knee pads for prolonged kneeling
  • Avoid an excessive work pace or extended shifts for repetitive forceful work tasks
  • Keep objects being lifted or carried as close to the body as possible
  • Not twist the body when lifting
  • Push, not pull
  • Avoid use of back-belts unless prescribed by a health professional