Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Reduce your risk of injury

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 7: Ergonomics > Reduce your risk of injury


Changing tools, machines, workstations, and work processes can reduce pain and injury. Some solutions can be done by workers themselves. Some will require organizing and unity among workers to convince the boss.

a woman speaking.
Convincing the boss that better ergonomics is good business was the hardest part. He didn’t agree to many changes at first, but now he understands that if our bodies stay healthy and strong, we will work well — even better than before!
  • Change positions during the day and move your eyes and body as often as you can in the opposite direction from how you move them while working.
  • Listen to your body and find out what processes are causing you pain. Talk with other workers to find out if they also have signs of strain or overuse. Carry out the survey Strain and overuse injuries in your factory or do the activity Draw a map of the body.
  • Massage yourself, stretch, and strengthen your body to treat strain early and avoid further injury. See Stretches and massage reduce pain.
  • Find ways to modify your workplace to fit you and organize to make them happen in your factory. See Workplace changes to reduce injury.
  • Find ways to change how work is done so it does not exceed your physical limits, and organize to make these changes happen for others in your factory as well. See Protect workers from injury.


a woman speaking in a group while another woman makes 3 lists on a board at the front of the room.
I can barely move my hands at the end of the day.
  TASK:
• sewing
   PROBLEM:
• pull heavy fabric
• hold hands in   same position
• hard edge of   machine
• hunched forward
• knee pain
   IDEAS:
• add soft   cushion to edge
• add back   cushion
• rotate jobs
• stretch often


ActivityErgonomic dangers in your factory

These numbered survey questions are followed by information suggesting what changes might be made to respond to people’s answers. When you make your own survey, thinking ahead about how you would improve working conditions can help you better form your questions.

  1. Do you have tingling, weakness, or pain? Where?
  2. Do you repeat the same movement over and over again?
    Tools and materials that fit your hands comfortably will make repetitive movements less harmful to your body. But the best way to reduce the harm from repetitive work is to have less of it.
  3. Do you work long hours without breaks?
    Your body needs time to recover from the stress and strain of work. Take breaks during the day and take time to relax after work.
  4. Do you work in uncomfortable positions?
    Tables, chair, and workstations that fit your body reduce twisting, bending or stretching too much.
  5. Do your body and eyes stay in the same position for a long time?
    Your body and eyes need to move around to stay healthy and strong.
  6. Do you lift heavy loads?
    See Lifting, carrying, and moving supplies safely for ideas on how to lift safely and which lifting and pushing tools can help prevent and reduce injuries.
  7. Do you retrieve heavy items from high or low places?
    Store heavy things or items you use often at waist height to prevent strain.
  8. Do you use too much force?
    Using your fingers, hands, and arms to pinch, pull, or hold too hard can injure you.
  9. Do you use furniture or equipment with hard or sharp edges? Reduce or eliminate hard edges on tables and tools by covering them with soft material.
  10. Do you work with tools that vibrate?
    Stand on padded mats to reduce the impact of vibration on the body. The best solution is to rotate jobs and not use vibrating tools more than a few hours a day.
  11. Do you work in very cold or very hot temperatures?
    Both can increase your risk of getting injured by repetitive work.


ActivityUsing a survey to improve ergonomics

You can use the questions above to help you organize a survey in your factory. A survey gives you a reason to talk to every worker. You can find out what problems your co-workers think are most important, who is eager to help change conditions, and who will work on making or expanding a network for sharing information among workers. A survey can also create a shared understanding among workers and build hope that change is possible.

Review and change the questions to fit your situation. Add questions that are specific to each production line and work process. Do not forget the cleaning and maintenance workers who move around the factory.

Gather a group of workers to review the questions and create new ones. The group might decide to ask about pain and injuries or the number of hours worked over the past month. Workers in different departments will have different questions. You might need to ask questions in several languages so all workers can participate. Ask workers with the most interest to help gather and evaluate information and then to plan a campaign.

Recruit workers from each work area to survey 5 to 10 co-workers. With a committee of volunteers, it should be possible to talk with every worker in the factory, even a large factory. Volunteers could speak with workers individually or in small groups at lunch or after work.

Record what workers say and discuss their answers as a group. Note when workers agree or disagree on problems and solutions. Depending on their jobs, gender, or general health, workers often have different opinions. Note who seems most interested. Maybe they will lead the push for changes in their area.

Summarize the responses to the survey and share them with all workers.


a woman speaking.
People were very eager to talk with other workers about their jobs and about what hurt. A few were surprised… nobody had ever asked them before. We found that almost everybody in the factory had strain and overuse pain. Some had severe problems. When we informed everyone about the survey results, people got angry at the boss and wanted to do something. We arranged a training in ergonomics from an NGO and created a health and safety committee. Changes come slowly, but knowing others care about their pain keeps people motivated.