Ergonomics: Separating Fact from Fad

Aug. 9, 2011
Here's what you should know about mandating a corporate stretching program -- and other ergonomic solutions.

There are facts and there are fads, and when it comes to ergonomics it sometimes becomes difficult to know which is which. Do anti-vibration gloves work? What about anti-fatigue mats? Should you implement a corporate stretching program?

Ergonomics consulting firm Humantech recently discussed these ergonomic solutions -- and more -- in an effort to separate fact from fad.

Fads tend to obscure the facts, says Jim Good, president of Humantech, during a recent webinar. Fads, he explained, are forms of behavior that tend to be followed enthusiastically for brief periods of time, typically only to fade away when the general body of knowledge catches up. Facts, on the other hand and by Humantechs definition -- make a measurable contribution to good ergonomic practice or behavior.

Humantech experts addressed several ergonomic solutions, including:

Anti-fatigue matting: Such matting is a fact supported by scientific evidence, says Humantech. Standing for long periods of time on hard surfaces leads to poor blood circulation and fatigue, two challenges anti-fatigue matting can address. The slightly unstable surface and cushy feel of the matting prompts movement and adjustment, which aids circulation.

Thats not to say it is required everywhere. The consulting firm suggests its use at standing work stations and in areas of high foot traffic. Provide industrial mats for workers who stand for at least 90% of their working hours, Humantech advises.

Neither is all anti-fatigue matting created equal. Humantech offered several guidelines, including the need to place the edge of the padding at least eight inches underneath a work station to prevent an employee from operating on uneven standing surfaces.

Back belt for manual material handling. The consulting firm described the back belt as a fad, reporting that evidence suggests it can be either detrimental or beneficial to a worker. Given the lack of scientific evidence to show back belts prevent a first injury, and muddy additional evidence, Humantech experts say universally prescribing the use of back belts is typically not the best means to reduce or prevent back injuries.

They instead suggest addressing the root cause of back injuries and eliminating those causes. That may include lightening loads that require lifting or making the loads heavy enough that an individual would not consider moving it manually without the aid of an engineering solution.

Workplace stretching. Stretching may not help in preventing injuries, Humantech stated, which led its experts to label stretching a fad when it comes to reducing workplace injuries.

In particular, the experts cited corporately mandated stretch programs as less than justified. Many folks may not do the stretches properly, the ergonomic experts said, and for others it may even be contraindicated.

The seminar leaders were quick to clarify they were not saying stretching is bad, only that rolling it out en masse is not recommended. They identified it as a good element of an overall wellness program.

Anti-vibration gloves. Such gloves are an ergonomic winner, according to Humantech, provided the correct solutions are selected. The consulting firm noted the existence of both ISO and ANSI standards by which to compare the performance of such gloves.

Humantech provided additional detail about these solutions and commented on several additional ergonomic solutions during its webinar, which has been archived. It can be viewed without cost at Ergonomic Solutions: Fad vs. Fact.

See Also:
Safety Beyond Compliance

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