It’s no secret that working in the construction industry is physically demanding. According to OSHA, 40% of construction workers are “working hurt” with muscular-skeletal issues that have developed over time from physical stress. Examples of these are lower back pain, tendonitis, carpal tunnel or rotator cuff syndrome.
It starts with minor discomfort that your body can recover from between times of intense activity. In these early stages, symptoms (pain, swelling, stiffness, etc.) are mild and can recover at 100% but eventually your body is not able to recover back to normal. The goal is to find ways the proper ways to make work activities easier and more efficient on your body as early on as possible. That’s where ergonomics comes in.
Ergonomics is the scientific term for how you use your body to work. Building good ergonomic practices on the jobsite will help you protect your body from cumulative injury. However, you can’t practice good ergonomics without first identifying the potential hazards on construction sites that are causing this physical stress. Here are a few:
- Lifting and handling materials
- Stooping, bending, and kneeling
- Overhead work
- Repetitive tasks
- Awkward grips and posture
- Hand intensive work
- Hand and arm vibration from tools
- Pressure stress on hard surfaces
A terrific way to begin is to observe your work during the day and note the areas you can improve. When your tasks require forceful exertions, awkward postures, and repetitive motions, think about new ways to carry out those tasks:
- Try to store materials at waist height
- Use carts, dollies, and forklifts to move materials – not your back
- If materials are too heavy, do not lift them by yourself
- When lifting or carrying materials, keep the load as close to your body as you can
- Try not to twist – turn your whole body
- Lift and lower materials in a smooth, steady way – not quick and jerky
Because apprentices are young and strong, they often lift and carry more than they should. More experienced crew members should look out for them to help protect them against future back injuries. Be a team player by protecting your co-workers when you see they could be doing it a different way that makes it easier on their body.
It is impossible to eliminate every forceful task or repetitive movement in construction but practicing good ergonomics while you work helps reduce the likelihood and severity of these issues.