Five ways ergonomic material handling equipment reduces workplace injuries

Investing in proper ergonomic equipment can help reduce the strain on workers’ bodies and prevent injuries.

By Matilda Odell June 13, 2023
Courtesy: TAWI

Ergonomic equipment insights:

  • Ergonomic material handling equipment can reduce workplace injuries and promote safety.
  • Stationary positions, forceful motion, repetitive movements, lifting heavy objects, extreme temperatures, vibration and noise can lead to bodily wear and tear or injury.
  • Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) pose a significant risk to workers. Factors such as awkward body postures, lifting heavy items, repetitive tasks and forced body movements can cause injuries.

Workplace safety is a priority in protecting workers from occupational illnesses and injuries. A safe and healthy workplace reduces costs associated with injuries and lowers the rate of absenteeism and labor turnover. Safe work environments also increase employee morale and productivity.

In 2020, the private sector in the US reported about 247,620 work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WMSD) injuries and illnesses. Common examples of MSDs include back pain, strains, sprains, tears, hernia and carpal tunnel syndrome.

MSDs are sometimes referred to as ergonomic injuries and prevention is key to protect workers and reduce workplace risks. Ergonomic material handling equipment allows your staff to work comfortably in body postures that prevent injury.

This type of equipment ensures fewer body motions, less exertion and better reaches and heights, making the workplace safer and more efficient. Here are five ways ergonomic material handling equipment can reduce workplace injuries and costs.

Ergonomic material handling equipment can make workers safer, healthier and more productive in their day-to-day tasks. Courtesy: TAWI

Ergonomic material handling equipment can make workers safer, healthier and more productive in their day-to-day tasks. Courtesy: TAWI

1. Promotes a safe work environment design

In a typical warehouse, most materials are placed at heights which are challenging to access without equipment. Workers are often at risk of being hit by falling objects. Moreover, stationary positions, forceful motion, repetitive movements, lifting heavy objects, extreme temperatures, vibration and noise can lead to bodily wear and tear or injury.

Therefore, choosing the right equipment allows employers to create a comfortable and safe workplace. For instance, portable lifting trolleys can move materials in tight spaces. Electric column lifts provide safe vertical movements for heavy or bulky loads and their articulated arms allow for smooth control and reach for different lengths.

A facility’s layout also plays a significant role in promoting workplace safety and efficiency. This means managers should arrange machines, tools and workstations to promote efficient order picking and enhance safety.

2. Reduces strain and fatigue

Workers in a warehouse often need to lift or move heavy and bulky materials, so they are at a higher risk of developing MSDs. The risk factors at work include:

  • Awkward body postures

  • Lifting heavy items

  • Pulling or pushing heavy loads

  • Reaching overhead

  • Bending

  • Performing repetitive tasks for extended periods

  • Forced body movements and vibrations.

The strain associated with heavy lifting can cause injuries such as back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and shoulder pain.

Material handling equipment like forklifts and lift trucks makes lifting ergonomic, effortless and efficient. Automated guided vehicles are also ideal for transporting materials around a warehouse. Other ergonomic equipment suitable for bulk material handling include stackers, reclaimers and bucket elevators.

Workers in a warehouse can use container unloading systems for easy loading and unloading. These systems are only ergonomic and safe, but also increase productivity by allowing workers to handle more loads within a shorter time.

A case study by Studocu found ergonomic equipment reduces employee efforts by minimizing forces in handling, lifting, pulling and pushing materials. This results in increased productivity, worker morale and quality products.

3. Improves posture and position

When workers bend to reach items, some adopt awkward postures while handling boxes, pallets and other items. Ergonomic equipment also helps reduce the injuries associated with awkward postures and repetitive motions in the workplace by ensuring employees work in neutral positions.

For instance, electric hydraulic work positioners can lift, rotate, tilt and position bulky and heavy items. Their flexibility enables employees to control the motion for precise and accurate movements. Lift trucks and pallet jacks allow workers to handle tasks at a comfortable height, reducing the risk of sprains and strains. Using this equipment in production and assembly lines minimizes the risk of injuries and illnesses from awkward positioning.

4. Reduces the amount of time workers spend performing manual tasks

Manual material handling (MMH) is a common cause of low back pain and workplace fatigue. Approximately 75% of workers handling MMH tasks experience back injury or pain. These injuries also account for one-third of all compensation costs and work lost.

Ergonomic material handling equipment can reduce the risks associated with MMH. For instance, mobile vacuum lifters reduce manual work and are safe for both the operator and the load. Likewise, a conveyor system can move items from one workstation to another, eliminating the need for lifting materials manually.

5. Enhances grip and control

The optimal grip is vital for worker safety when handling materials or tools. Moreover, it is critical in almost all industries, including assembly work, construction, logistics, warehousing and engineering. A poor grip can cause numerous problems, including slips and drops. While grabbing an object with the entire hand is ideal, some objects are heavy and bulky, which makes grabbing an item with a bare hand difficult.

In an address about ergonomics in the manufacturing plant, Kevin Reiland, Panasonic’s Assembly Tool Division Manager, said it is essential to grip the object with the entire hand. However, some objects are heavy and bulky, making them difficult to handle with bare hands.

While optimal grip is the key consideration when selecting work gloves, facility managers also should consider other ergonomic equipment that can help workers better grip and control objects. Hoists and gripping tools are easy to control, offer greater stability and flexibility and enhance accuracy and precision.

Ergonomic equipment reduces long-term costs

Musculoskeletal pain can be chronic or acute, affecting the entire body or a localized area. According to ErgoPlus, the costs of MSDs in the US are about $20 billion per year, making it one of the most disabling and expensive health conditions in the country.

Investing in ergonomic equipment is crucial for preventing material handling injuries. Beyond handling equipment, facility managers also should invest in ergonomic chairs and desks that increase comfort, reduce strain on the body and save money on health expenses.

Author Bio: Matilda Odell is a content creation specialist at TAWI, a brand by Piab Group, which enables smart lifting optimized for people and businesses.