Ergonomics in the Construction Industry

We don’t normally visualize men in hardhats starting out their day doing a range of motion exercises, but ergonomic issues can profoundly affect construction industry workers. Understanding how the human body interacts with different environments reduces the risk of discomfort, fatigue, and injuries while fostering more productivity and efficiency.

Let’s explore the basics of ergonomics in construction below.

What Is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the scientific discipline dedicated to designing environments to suit a person’s physical limitations and capabilities. Its goal is to optimize how humans interact with workspaces, equipment, and standard tools to reduce strain and promote proper body mechanics and good posture.

Ergonomic Safety in the Construction Industry

Ergonomics is a crucial consideration in the construction industry. It promotes safety and well-being among workers as they interact with physical challenges on the job site.

Ergonomic safety focuses on establishing systems and spaces that are conducive to human design, ensuring a worker’s physical responsibilities suit their abilities.

You must understand the various ergonomic hazards on construction sites to maximize on-the-job safety.

Examples of Ergonomic Hazards in Construction

The leading concern of poor ergonomics in the construction industry is the risk of workers developing musculoskeletal disorders, which can impact:

  • Nerves
  • Muscles
  • Ligaments
  • Tendons
  • Blood vessels

Several ergonomic hazards can lead to work-related MSDs.

  • Heavy lifting: Workers in the construction industry must hoist heavy materials and objects for different jobs. Lifting tools or equipment can cause muscle strain over time, potentially causing chronic back pain or more severe injuries. Manual material handling without proper support or technique can also result in strains, sprains, and other MSDs.
  • Repetitive motions: Another common ergonomic hazard on construction sites is repetitive motions involved in tasks such as drilling and hammering. Continually performing the same actions can lead to overuse injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
  • Vibration exposure: Many construction tools, like jackhammers, create a steady vibration during use. For operators, this buzz can cause a condition called hand-arm vibration syndrome. HAVS can affect the worker’s circulation and the nerves in their arms and hands. In severe cases, they can experience long-term numbness in their fingers.
  • Awkward postures: The construction industry is no stranger to tasks that involve working in inconvenient and uncomfortable positions, like reaching, bending, and kneeling for extended periods. Contorting the body to tackle different jobs can cause unnecessary strain on joints and muscles, increasing the likelihood of serious discomfort or injuries.
  • Working at heights: Workers performing tasks at higher elevations from scaffolding or a building roof must focus on maintaining their balance while completing their work, which can increase the likelihood of injuries from overexertion and fatigue.
  • Tool and equipment design: A common ergonomic hazard for construction personnel is working with heavy equipment and power tools with designs or configurations that are not conducive to long-term use, which can increase the chances of injuries. Operator controls and seats in a piece of equipment’s cab can drastically affect how a worker’s body feels and functions over time.

The Importance of Ergonomic Hazard Prevention in Construction

Why is ergonomic hazard prevention crucial for a construction business?

Reducing Workplace Injuries

Every construction business should try to minimize and eliminate workplace injuries. Following ergonomic best practices is crucial for combating common issues, particularly musculoskeletal disorders and fatigue. Addressing these hazards can help employees avoid situations and tasks where they may experience excessive strain or discomfort, improving worker well-being, morale, and productivity.

Improving Worker Safety

Exhausted or burned-out workers who do not follow proper ergonomic practices threaten job site safety. For instance, if an ergonomic-related injury occurs during equipment operation, it can endanger those nearby. Another example might be a worker dropping heavy materials because they have severe back pain from using poor lifting form.

Enhancing Worker Satisfaction

When a construction company prioritizes ergonomic hazard prevention, it can boost employee attitudes and morale. Workers can complete their daily tasks with less strain on their bodies, helping them become more productive and efficient. Investing in ergonomic education and improvements can increase worker satisfaction and retention while boosting a company’s reputation.

Complying With Industry Regulations

While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have specific mandates addressing ergonomic hazards in the construction industry, the agency requires all employers to protect their employees from recognized threats that may result in severe harm or death — including ergonomic hazards.

Construction businesses should implement proper ergonomic upgrades to keep workers safe and avoid penalties or legal liabilities.

Investing in ergonomic education and improvements can increase worker satisfaction and retention while boosting a company's reputation.

How to Combat Ergonomic Hazards in Construction

Businesses must take a multifaceted approach to effectively combat ergonomic hazards in the construction industry. Here are three primary ways to fight these dangers and protect workers from MSDs.

1. Personal Protective Equipment (make this #3; PPE is always LAST, especially w/Ergo.)

Wearing traditional PPE (like back belts) is frowned upon for a variety of reasons by most in the discipline of ergonomics prevention. Bback belts actually weaken the back muscles they are designed to protect as well as giving the wearer a false sense of security However, wearing some types of PPE is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of injuries on the job. Examples of PPE that can help workers maintain good posture and mechanics include anti-vibration gloves, knee and elbow pads, and supportive footwear.

Wearing gear correctly and consistently will help workers combat strain and stress on their bodies, decreasing fatigue and injury.

2. Equipment Selection and Engineering Controls

Using ergonomic equipment and tools is a highly impactful way to prevent construction injuries. Newer machines and ergonomically designed tools tend to be more operator-friendly and comfortable. Construction companies can implement engineering controls to modify existing models in their fleets to eradicate ergonomic hazards and rely more heavily on equipment for tasks involving heavy lifting or repetition.

3. Proper Training and Education

Proper training is essential for combating ergonomic hazards in construction. Workers must understand the implications of ergonomic hazards and take responsibility for working carefully, using proper techniques.

Training programs and education can help construction personnel gain the insight they need to prioritize ergonomic best practices and keep their bodies in top shape.

Obtain the Construction Safety Manager Certificate From the National Association of Safety Professionals

The National Association of Safety Professionals (NASP) is your go-to source for workplace safety training and certifications in the construction industry.

NASP’s Workplace Ergonomics Specialist course students a foundational understanding of work-related MSDs and the role ergonomics plays in preventing these injuries. The course requires no prerequisites, and you can complete the exam online.

We also offer a Certified Safety Manager Certificate specifically for the construction industry that you can use to exemplify your job site safety proficiency to potential employers, courts, or regulatory agencies.

If you’re interested in learning more about our catalog of certifications and courses, contact us for additional information today.

Obtain the Construction Safety Manager Certificate From the National Association of Safety Professionals


About the Author

Eric Gislason

Eric Gislason is the CEO and Executive Director of NASP. He is also one of the principal trainers, specializing in OSHA compliance and development of workplace safety culture. Eric has over 33 years of experience in the EHS field, having trained individuals from across the spectrum on OSHA/EPA compliance including manufacturing, oil and gas, construction, warehousing, healthcare, and retail.
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