Sheet metal handling entails major ergonomic risks when appropriate precautions are not taken. Working in extreme temperatures, placing continuous pressure on the hands, lifting parts with awkward shapes and sizes, and strenuous working positions are all common ergonomic risks on a job site. To protect against these hazards, here are some important tips from the Cal/OSHA Consultation Service.
Take a few minutes to stretch before and during work.
As any athlete will tell you, stretching before a game is crucial. The same is true for strenuous physical labor. Taking the time to stretch your arms, shoulders, back, hips, and legs helps guard against pulled or strained muscles.
Watch for the warning signs of a chronic problem.
Many musculoskeletal disorders are preceded by less severe indicators. Be on guard for the following symptoms:
- Constant fatigue
- Numbness, weakness, or loss of sensation
- Cold hands
- Changes in skin color
- Aching, burning, or shooting pain
Speak with a supervisor immediately if you experience any of the above symptoms. They are warning signs of poor ergonomics, and ignoring them could make the symptoms worse.
Working with a supervisor, attempt to identify the cause of the problem and determine if there is a better way to perform the task. In rare cases where a job can’t be made more ergonomic, employees should rotate or take breaks often to prevent overworking muscles.
Pay attention to posture and positioning.
Many musculoskeletal disorders occur from performing work in awkward postures. To combat this, take a few extra moments to plan how you’ll perform a task. For instance, if you’re driving screws overhead, center yourself under the area. Reaching out with your arm and exerting force puts a dangerous amount of pressure on your shoulder.
Most tasks can be performed in a more ergonomic way simply by adjusting your starting position or posture. Being mindful of fatigue and other signs of strain will allow you to adjust your positioning before a more serious injury occurs.
Use ergonomic equipment to minimize strain and stress on workers’ bodies.
Sheet metal work requires complicated motions and precise placements that only a human can provide. Still, relying on assistive equipment can make work more ergonomic. Power tools allow your hand to use less force, and angled pliers can reduce strain on your wrists.
Panel Carts with heavy-duty casters make transporting sheet metal and other panels safer. The strength of the casters ensures that they won’t become wobbly or misaligned; carts that have these problems require workers to exert more force, potentially placing unsafe pressure on the back. The more frequently workers encounter poor ergonomics, the more likely are to be sidelined by an injury someday.
Ergonomic changes don’t just reduce injuries — they increase productivity.
There are plenty of good reasons to implement better ergonomics to improve the health and morale of workers. Adjusting tasks so that workers incur less stress and strain makes a workforce healthier and happier (not to mention less likely to take sick leave).
Those are great benefits of good ergonomics, but don’t forget the overlooked byproduct of increased productivity. When workers can complete tasks using less energy and incurring fewer injury risks, they are able to get more done. That means investment in good ergonomics can make any sheet metal handling operation safer and more successful.
“Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling.” Cal/OSHA Consultation Service, Research and Education Unit. California Department of Industrial Relations, 2007. PDF. 19 Mar. 2018.
“Ergonomic Survival Guide for Sheet Metal Workers.” Cal/OSHA Consultation Service, Research and Education Unit. PDF. 19 Mar. 2018.