Ergonomics done right.®
December 15th, 2009

Q&A for the American Supply Association

Hello everyone,

Recently I conducted
a webinar for the American Supply Association entitled “Ergonomics & Back
Safety for Material Handling”.  There
were a lot of questions during the event; many of which I simply didn’t have
time to get to during the allotted time. 
So, I thought I would answer them here, for the
benefit of all readers.  If you missed the webinar and you are interested, you can find it at the ASA website.

I received several
questions on the same topics, so I grouped them by theme.

Q:  If the NIOSH lifting equation does not apply
to the job task, what other tools can be used?  Do you have any thoughts on the other
"half" of lifting – high lifting (e.g. upper tier palletizing) – that
affects shoulders more so than low back? 
Engineering is somewhat obvious (lower the height) — how about lifting
methods?  Are there any good tools to
analyze the risk to the shoulder from repeated overhead reaching tasks?   Are
there any tools for one handed tasks?

A:  These types of questions are extremely
common.  As the NIOSH Lifting equation is
only applicable for two-handed lifts/lowers within certain parameters, a lot of
companies get in touch with us inquiring about what more they can do to provide
more in-depth risk analysis.  What is
required is a comprehensive, quantitative tool that accounts for posture,
force, frequency and duration.  There are
several tools available in the public domain – 
Humantech uses the BRIEF™ Survey which we use as a baseline
quantification of ergonomic risk for every job, whether it contains lifting or
not.  Often, tools like the NIOSH Lifting
Equation are used as a supplement to this analysis, rather than a starting

Q:  Can you give us more details about the RWL
calculation?  What is the formula for RWL
again? What does each variable mean?

A:  Humantech offers a free webinar , entitled “Applying
the NIOSH Lifting Equation.  You can
register and view for free by following this link

Q:  Does Humantech support the recent OSHA
injury recording revision where the OSHA log no longer captures ergonomic

A:  Humantech
supports using injury/illness data as one means of
determining the impact of work related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) on an
organization, and to help determine where improvements efforts need to be
  In a recent interview published in EHS
Today, acting Assistant Secretary for OSHA Jordan Barab stated “Musculoskeletal
injuries are one of the biggest worker health and safety problem in this
country.” And we agree with that.

Since 2004, the OSHA 300 log groups WMSD’s
under “Injury” or “All other injuries.” This lack of specificity obscures the
incidence of WMSD’s. OSHA is now proposing to better define musculoskeletal
disorders for recordkeeping purposes and add a column on work-related
musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) to the OSHA 300 Log.

Yes, we agree that improved tracking will
enable employers to dimension their problem and help to better determine where
improvement efforts need to be focused.

Q:  Are shoes (the quality) a big factor in back

A:  Quality or type of shoe (or shoe insert) does
not increase the risk of developing a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WMSD)
of the back.  A WMSD is a cumulative
trauma disorder that centers on movement at joint, rather than static
postures.  However, proper footwear and
interventions such as anti-fatigue matting may promote venous return from the
lower extremities, resulting in increased comfort and decreased varicosity.

Q:  Can you recommend sources/ web-sites for  off-the shelf solutions such as you shared in
the slides? There was a 3 wheel cart in one of your slides. Do you have
information on where to purchase some recommended equipment?

A:  We like Alimed for both industrial and office ergonomic solutions.

Q:  Do you have any
statistics on whether back braces (such as those worn at Home Depot) help
prevent injuries?  What is your opinion
on back belts?

A:  The Back Belt Working Group, formed by the
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), reviewed
scientific literature related to back belts. NIOSH is the federal Institute
responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the
prevention of work-related injuries and illnesses. The Group's objective was to
evaluate the adequacy of the data supporting the use of back belts to reduce
work-related injuries in healthy, uninjured workers. The Group issued its
report in July of 1994. The Working Group concluded that the effectiveness of
using back belts to lessen the risk of back injury among uninjured workers
remains unproven. NIOSH also stated that, because of limitations in the studies
on the use of back belts, the results neither support nor refute the
effectiveness of back belts in injury reduction.

Since the effectiveness of using back belts
to reduce the risk of back injury remains unproven, NIOSH does not recommend
the use of back belts to prevent injuries.  Visit the NIOSH website detailing back belts.

Additionally, Dr. Stu McGill at the
University of Waterloo has done extensive research on this subject. He
dedicates an entire chapter to it in his book “Low Back Disorders: Evidence
Based Prevention and Rehabilitation”.  Find
out more at Dr. McGill's website.

I would be more than happy to answer more of your questions.  Some questions I received were quite specific, so I will contact those participants directly to help with those situations.  Thanks for attending, and I appreciate your interest and enthusiasm!  


Kent Hatcher