Many people in construction believe that sprains and strains are just the nature of the business. But new tools, materials and methods are now available that can make work less risky and less ache-y and increase productivity.

Ergonomics – fitting the task or workplace to the worker, instead of the worker to the task – can help protect your body from injuries. Ergonomics can make the work easier on your body and often helps you work more efficiently.

Ergonomics addresses injuries – preventing injuries – due to repeated traumas to the musculoskeletal system (muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, bones) and the nervous system. Unlike injuries from falls, electrocution or other serious hazards, musculoskeletal disorders often don’t seem very serious at first. They may start with minor discomfort, aches or pain that goes away the next day or at night during rest. But returning to the same activity over and over can exacerbate symptoms and cause injury.

Five common musculoskeletal-related hazards that occur in construction or labor work:

  1. Repetition: doing the same task repeatedly using the same muscles.
  2. High force: using major muscle power during heavy lifting, pushing items or gripping tools.
  3. Awkward posture: working with your body held in an uncomfortable position for a long time.
  4. Contact stress: pressure from an object pushing on the soft body tissues (i.e., tool handle).
  5. Hand-arm vibration: vibration that enters the body from power tools or equipment.

Any of the above hazards performed over a long time can cause a problem. Job duties with more than one risk can increase physical discomfort even more.
Tips to reduce musculoskeletal-related hazards:

  • First, recognize the hazards in your work tasks.
  • Think about tasks that are uncomfortable or difficult to perform.
  • Share your ideas and ask others for their opinions. Front-line workers doing the job may have practical solutions to prevent musculoskeletal injuries.
  • Sometimes just a small change in tools, techniques, materials or equipment can make a big difference in preventing body aches and injuries.
  • When introducing any ergonomic change into the workplace or job site, accompany with worker training on how to use the new equipment and/or to implement the new method safely.

Three controls to implement ergonomics in the workplace:

  1. Engineering controls should be the first consideration. These include any physical changes that eliminate or significantly reduce workplace hazards. Example: using devices to lift materials rather than the workers physically lifting.
  2. Administrative controls are changes to workplace practices to increase safety and efficiency through processes and procedures. Example: adding a workplace rule that loads weighing more than 50 pounds must be lifted / carried by two people.
  3. Personal protective equipment should be considered third. PPE relies on the worker to use the correct type of ergonomic equipment correctly and consistently. Example: using padding to reduce contact with sharp edges.

More resources

Simple Solutions, Ergonomics for Construction Workers. (NIOSH Pub. No. 2007-122) 

Elements of Ergonomics Programs (NIOSH Pub. No. 97-117)