Awkward postures mean working with various parts of the body in bent, extended or flexed positions rather than in a straight or neutral position. Working in awkward postures increases the exertion and muscle force that employees must apply to complete a task and compresses tendons, nerves and blood vessels. In general, the more extreme the posture the more force is needed to complete the task.
Examples of awkward postures include any task that may:
- Pulling the elbows away from the torso such as performing overhead work or reaching in front, to the side, or in behind the body;
- Bending the elbow past about 90 degrees for prolonged periods of time;
- Bending or twisting the torso to lift an object from low or distant locations;
- Extending, flexing, or bending a wrist to the side while using tools or performing connection tasks;
- Bending the neck backward or forward for prolonged periods while working overhead or on low surfaces; and
- Bending the knee or ankle to work in a squatting or kneeling position.
For most companies, the work that employees perform on a daily basis can be quite physical. This type of physical labor can lead to a wide range of injuries. Of course, to improve on workplace safety it is important to do all you can to help reduce the amount and severity of these types of injuries.
One easy place where you can start is with the different postures that employees take while performing their day to day activities. In many cases, they put themselves in awkward postures, which increase the risk of injuries to the back, neck and other parts of the body. Fortunately, there are typically alternative ways to do things or even tools that can do those tasks for them so they can avoid injury.
The important thing is helping to identify the awkward postures, and help find alternatives for the employees. The following five positions should be removed from the workplace as much as possible so that employees can complete their work with as little risk for injury as possible.
1. Working with Arms above the Head
The first awkward posture that is commonly seen in workplaces is trying to complete tasks with your arms above the head. There are many examples of this, some of which could include holding up a board while it is secured in place, or even painting a ceiling.
Any time you are working with your arms over your head, you are putting added strain on your back. In addition, your arms are going to fatigue much more quickly than they would in a more natural position. This can put you at risk of dropping tools or getting injured in other ways.
There are quite a few ways you can get around having to reach up above your head to get a job done. For example, rather than holding an object up against the ceiling with your hands, you can have an extendable brace put up to keep it steady until it can be properly fastened. Another option is to use tool extenders, which allow you to work from a more natural posture while still reaching the higher location.
2. Twisting Your Back
In many cases you will have to grab items from one area and work on them in another throughout the day. This may make you tempted to simply twist your back to grab an item, and then twist back once you’ve grabbed it. While it might seem simple at first, this is actually an awkward posture for your body.
When your back is twisted, your spine is not in its natural position, which means it is at an elevated risk of injury. Back injuries can happen in the blink of an eye, and can occur even when you’re doing things you’ve done thousands of times before.
To avoid this problem, either turn your whole body to face the item you need to pick up, or better yet, see if the facility can adjust the positioning of the items. If it is possible, having items positioned in a better area will eliminate the need for this motion at all. This could be part of a 5S effort as anytime you can eliminate motion; you are going to be eliminating waste too!
3. Bending Down
There is an almost endless list of reasons why people have to bend down at work. It could be to pick something up, or to get closer to an item they are working on. It could also be to gain access to a specific area where work needs to be done. Whatever the case, however, this awkward posture can put added strain on your neck and back as well as cause balance issues that may result in a fall.
The following are some simple ways to reduce the need to bend down while at work so that you can remain safer throughout the day:
- Raised Things Up
This may seem obvious, but it is actually often overlooked. You can typically raise the item you’re working on up so that you can maintain a normal posture. If you’re cutting something, for example, put it up on a sawhorse so you don’t have to bend over to reach it.
- Use a Floor Cart
If the item you’re working on can’t be moved, try to put yourself in a more natural position. Sometimes you can lie on a floor cart that will allow you to maintain a fairly natural position, and slide into an area to get the work done.
- Proper Tools
In many cases there are specially made tools that will allow you to work on an item that is lower to the ground, without having to bend down. This can be a great way to limit the amount you have to bend.
The important thing to keep in mind here is that you should always avoid bending over as this awkward posture is quite risky. Finding better ways to reach the items you require will help reduce the risk of injury.
4. Squatting Down
Many people mistakenly think that as long as they squat down properly and lift with their legs rather than their back that they are safe. The reality is, however, that whenever you squat down and stand back up you are going to be experiencing a number of problems.
To start with, this puts significant pressure on your knees, which can become very sore over time. In addition, your balance is not nearly as good while squatting, and that is only made worse when you are lifting something.
To avoid this awkward posture, consider lifting items using a fork lift or floor jack. These tools, and many others, can help to ensure you don’t have to squat down to get the work done. This will not only reduce overall risk, but it will also provide a more stable area to get the job done.
5. Bending or Twisting Wrists
You may not realize it, but your wrists are actually one of the weaker joints in the body. While they can hold items securely in a natural position, they have a lot of trouble twisting and bending while maintaining strength. This is why opening jars and things like that can be more difficult than one would expect.
Rather than bending or twisting your wrists, find alternative ways to complete a job. If you have to flip over a piece you’re working on, for example, see if there is a piece of equipment that can do it for you. If not, try to lift the item and rotate your arms rather than just your wrist. This will help you maintain your strength and reduce the risk of accident or injury.