Conducting a Workplace Ergonomic Risk Assessment

December 30, 2018

A worker lifting a box correctly and incorrectly
Ergonomic risk assessments can prevent many workplace injuries.

A worker lifting a box correctly and incorrectly.


Jonathan Thompson

When evaluating risks in the workplace, obvious factors like exposed wires and leaky ceilings tend to take center stage. In reality, though, there are more subtle aspects of workplace health — like posture and repetitive tasks — that can have a huge impact on employee health and should not be ignored. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these ergonomic risk factors accounted for about 33 percent of all worker injury and illness cases in 2013. To reduce the frequency of these problems, employers can perform a workplace ergonomic risk assessment on a regular basis. But what exactly is this tool and how can you make the most effective use of it?

The Workplace Ergonomic Risk Assessment

Accurately assessing risks can be a real challenge for employers because ergonomic risk factors can manifest in a huge variety of forms. Individuals who work at a desk and those who move equipment in a warehouse undergo very different musculoskeletal stresses on a daily basis. Fortunately, a wide variety of tools have been designed that can help streamline the assessment process — regardless what type of task you're analyzing. One of the most user-friendly and frequently used tools is the Workplace Ergonomic Risk Assessment (WERA).

The workplace ergonomic assessment checklist created by these experts takes the form of a worksheet that guides employers through the examination of nine different risk factors for a given job or task. These include:

  1. Shoulder
  2. Wrist
  3. Back
  4. Neck
  5. Leg
  6. Force
  7. Vibration
  8. Contact stress
  9. Duration

During the assessment, each risk factor is given a particular score. At the end, these scores are totaled and the overall risk of the job is rated as either low, medium or high. Medium risk tasks should be investigated further and changed as needed. These assessments should typically be performed every six months but you may opt to do them more frequently if a new task is introduced or one specific job commonly creates problems.

Considerations

To successfully assess the ergonomic risk factors of a particular task, more is involved than just filling out a workplace ergonomic assessment checklist. Before you even perform the assessment, discuss the task with an employee — or group of employees — who performs it regularly. Since these workers are the most familiar with the task, and how it affects them, they are in the best position to provide insights as to the risks involved.

Similarly, discuss the results of the assessment with these same workers. They will likely be able to provide suggestions as to how to reduce certain risk factors. By involving the employees in this process, they will also be more willing to adopt any changes that you make based on the analysis.

Along with these assessments, it's important to provide regular and thorough training for the tasks being evaluated. This can help to prevent any potential problems, put the lessons learned through the assessments into practice and allow your employees to consistently improve.

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