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Preventing injuries through ergonomics

Ergonomics — modifying work to fit the worker — can help prevent injuries.

When Omar Mohammed worked as a letter carrier, he avoided carrying his satchel on the same shoulder.

“I would switch it from left to right, to balance out my shoulders,” he said.

By making these and other small adjustments, Mohammed — who now works as a business development specialist for Connecticut Valley District — avoided suffering any musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries, which can affect muscles, tendons, ligaments and the body’s bone structure.

Last year, Postal Service employees experienced nearly 9,000 work-related MSD injuries, which are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

That’s why using ergonomics — modifying work to fit the worker — is so important, according to Larry Duke, ergonomic specialist at USPS headquarters in Washington, DC.

“Ergonomics is a major aspect of safety because it helps prevent injuries from happening,” said Duke, noting February is Ergonomics Awareness Month.

For instance, if a plant job often requires reaching for items or standing for long periods, employees should have access to tools, such as reach poles and anti-fatigue floor mats, to reduce stresses that result in MSDs.

Employees can also bring their work closer to them or move to change the position of their legs to reduce stiffness. Additionally, employees can talk with a supervisor to discuss ways to eliminate forceful exertions that may result in pain or injury.

“The key is to identify the risk factor and work to either eliminate it or minimize it,” said Jerry Giammattei, an Atlantic Area ergonomic specialist.

Similarly, employees who are working remotely from home during the coronavirus pandemic aren’t immune from MSDs and should plan their workspaces with ergonomics in mind.

Maintaining a good working posture, properly adjusting the home workspace and breaking up or alternating work tasks are all ways to reduce the risk of MSDs related to computer work.

“Design the work to fit the capabilities and limitations of the worker,” Duke said. “For example, instead of just setting up a production line or designing a piece of equipment and only thinking about how it works, think about who’s going to work on the line or use the equipment.”

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