Awkward postures refer to positions of the body (limbs, joints, back) that deviate significantly from the neutral position while job tasks are being performed.
When employees are performing tasks that involve long reaches they are exposed to extreme awkward postures; that is, the positions of their shoulders, elbows and/or back deviate significantly from more neutral positions. Repeatedly performing tasks in such positions poses increased stress on the joints and/or spinal discs.
As mentioned before, muscles do not work as efficiently in awkward postures, and the muscles must exert more physical effort to accomplish the task. This increased force contributes to muscle-tendon fatigue and strain. For example, the shoulder may deviate at least 90 from its neutral position when reaching across a conveyor to grasp an object.
If the employee continues doing such reaches, the stress on the muscles and tendons in the shoulder can cause irritation and inflammation of the tendons and shoulder joint. This, in turn, may place increased pressure on nerves and blood vessels, reducing the supply of blood to the affected muscles and tendons.
- Reaching above the head to activate a press or other machine
- Reaching frequently for small parts in a bin that is at or close to the limit of the arm's reach
- Reaching down and behind the back to pick up parts to feed to a press or place on a conveyor
- Reaching across a conveyor to pick up items
- Reaching to pick up items on the other side of the scanner on a grocery checkout conveyor
Awkward posture is the primary ergonomic risk factor to which employees are exposed when the height of working surfaces is not correct. Working at surfaces that are too high can affect several parts of the body. Employees may have to lift and/or bend their shoulders, elbows and arms (including hands and wrists) into uncomfortable positions to perform the job tasks on higher surfaces.
For example, employees may have to raise their shoulders or move their elbows out from the side of their body to do a task on a high working surface. Also, they may have to bend their heads and necks to see the work they are doing.
Working surfaces that are too high usually affect the shoulders. The muscles must apply considerably more contraction force to raise and hold the shoulders and elbows out to the side, particularly if that position also must be maintained for more than a couple of seconds. The shoulder muscles fatigue quickly in this position.
On the other hand, when surfaces are too low, employees may have to bend their backs and necks to perform their tasks while hunched over the working surface. They may also have to reach down with their arms and shoulders to do the tasks. Where working surfaces are very low, employees may have to kneel or squat, which places very high forces on the knees to maintain the position and the weight of the body. Working surfaces that are too low usually affect the lower back and occasionally the neck.
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