Many years ago, there was a push to implement ergonomics standards in construction. After much discussion, the topic seemed to fall off the map.
If we review injury statistics, year over year, it is very easy to see that ergonomic-related injuries account for the highest percentage of injuries that are sustained. Sprains and strains to the back, shoulders, and joints are significant and cost employers billions every year in claims and losses.
As we look ahead, ergonomics is a topic that is back on the table and it won’t be long until employers are required, by law, to implement safeguards against ergonomics-related exposures. In the past, I believe that the economic impact was too great for OSHA and the states to implement rules, but after about 20 years of seeming quiet, my feeling is that it is coming.
Sure, we have made many strides over the past 20-30 years to limit some exposures. For instance, where laborers were once used to cut asphalt for excavations on roadways for long distances, now saws are used to limit the time and impact on a human. This is a perfect example of a safeguard that has greatly reduced exposure. Another more recent example is the exoskeleton program that Boeing is implementing for awkward and overhead work. This will greatly reduce the exposures and injuries to workers and save the company a lot of money.
As much as we may not want to reinvent the way that we conduct our work, it is best to get ahead of it now and start thinking about how we can eliminate at-risk activities through engineering or administrative controls. Soon, we will not have a choice.