TBT1 Ergonomics in Construction

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Washington University - St. Louis

Summary Statement

This is the first in a series of 6 Tool Box Talks produced by Washington University in St. Louis on ergonomics in construction work. This one should be delivered first because it covers what ergonomics is, why construction workers need to talk about it, what the risk factors are for developing a health problem and how to prevent these problems.

Facilitator / Leader Tasks Before the Tool Box Talk (TBT)

  1. Read through this TBT guide.
  2. Walk the job site to find ergonomics examples based on the TBT. If possible, take photos of “safe” and “unsafe” examples at the site to be used during the TBT.
  3. Write down discussion questions to ask the group.

Learning Goals

After discussing this training topic, workers will have gained a general understanding of:

  • Ergonomics
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders - MSDs
  • Phases of MSDs and the importance of using ergonomic solutions
  • Injury Hazards that may cause MSDs.


A training card has been developed to hand out at the beginning of each talk for workers to follow along.

Image of training card

The last page of this PDF has directions for printing and laminating the training cards.


What is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the way you use your body to work and fitting the job or task to you to reduce your risk of injury. These musculoskeletal injuries develop slowly over time and occur in the soft tissues of your body like the nerves, tendons, muscles, ligaments and joints. Examples of these injuries are low back strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendonitis. These injuries are called musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs.

Why Should We Talk About Ergonomics in Construction?

Ergonomics can help you protect your body from injuries. Using ergonomics during work activities makes the work easier on your body and often helps you find ways to do your work more efficiently.

What are the Phases of MSDs?

Phases of Musculoskeletal DisordersUnlike injuries from falls, electrocution, or other serious hazards, musculoskeletal disorders don’t seem very serious when they first show up. They start with minor discomfort in the early stages. These symptoms go away after a short break or at night when you don’t work. But returning to the same activity the next day brings back the symptoms. Your body can recover between these episodes of intense activity in the earlier stages when the symptoms are mild or moderate but eventually, your body won’t be able to recover to normal. Recognizing the problems in work tasks that cause these symptoms is the first step to eliminating them.

What are the risks of MSDs?

There are 5 common ergonomic hazards that may occur in work activities.

  • Repetition- involves doing the same task repeatedly that uses the same muscles over and over.
  • High Force- using high muscle power during activities such as heavy lifting, pushing items or gripping tools.
  • Awkward Postures- working with your body held in a poor position for a long time.
  • Contact Stress- when pressure from an object is pushed on the soft body tissues (i.e. tool handle).
  • Hand-Arm Vibration- vibration that enters the body from a power tools or equipment.

One of these hazards performed over a long time can cause a problem but activities with more than one hazard can increase physical discomfort even more.

What can you do to prevent MSDs?

First you must recognize the hazards in your work tasks.

  • Think about tasks that are uncomfortable or difficult to perform.
  • Try solutions (work technique, tools or equipment) to make the task easier to perform.
  • Share your ideas and ask others for ideas.

Note to the trainer: the table below provides examples of several tasks, hazards, and solutions. If you have time, you can share them with the group. You may also post them for others to look at after the presentation.


Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Caution Zone Checklist.

Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Hazard Zone Checklist. http://www.lni.wa.gov/safety/SprainsStrains/evaltools/HazardZoneChecklist.PDF

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Pushing & Pulling – General. http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/push1.html

NIOSH Simple Solutions: Ergonomics for Construction Workers, 2007, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2007-122/

Refer to the resources at our website--oshr.im.wustl.edu--for more Tool Box TIPS.


Training Note: Here are examples of hazards in different construction trades. Choose your trade or one that is similar to your group’s line of work that can be used as hazard examples.

Trade High Force Awkward Postures Repetition Contact Stress Hand-Arm Vibrabtion
Carpenter - Drywall Hands: Gripping a utility knife with a dull blade to cut drywall.
Whole body: Lifting a drywall sheet > 100 lbs by yourself.
Operating a screw gun overhead with the arm fully extended and the wrist bent. Driving screws into drywall every couple of seconds for 2 hours without brief rest periods. Repeatedly using your palm to hit the blunt edge of a metal stud into place. During prep work, using a concrete saw to cut into the floor for more than 2 hours in a shift.
Floor Layer Hands: During prep, gripping a hand scraper to scrape stuck VCT and glue off a concrete floor.
Whole body: Push/pulling a pallet of ceramic tiles using a pallet jack with bad wheels.
Spreading adhesive using a hand trowel with the arm fully extended out to the side and the wrist bent. Using the same arm motion repeatedly to spread floor leveler over an open floor for two hours without brief rest periods. Kneeling on concrete without wearing kneepads. Operating a walk-behind electric floor scraper that shakes the hands and arms for more than 2 hours in a shift.
Sheet Metal Worker Hands: Gripping snips to cut thick gauge metal.
Whole body: Lifting a long piece of duct alone without the use of a handling device.
Prepping duct parts on the floor while bending the back and reaching to work on them. Shop work: Repeated, similar motions during deburring that occurs for 2 hours or more without brief rest periods. Repeatedly using your palm to hit/ assemble metal pieces together. Operating a hand-held hammer drill to drill holes in concrete for more than 2 hours in a shift.


Training Topic: Ergonomics In Construction



Directions for Making Laminated Training Cards

The last page of this PDF has directions for printing and laminating the training cards.