Common Ergonomic Risks and Controls

By Dr. Ann Marie Dale


  • Pace yourself; alternate tasks or alternate hands.
  • Use power tools instead of manual ones.
  • Perform stretches, or take breaks from repetitive tasks.

Awkward Postures:

  • Avoid prolonged postures: alternate tasks (work practice).
  • Avoid end range of joint angle:
    • Extreme bent knee: Use knee saver, K2S, half kneel, knee pad with additional support.
    • Bent wrist to trowel adhesive, finish, or filler: Use inline trowel or angled handle traditional trowel (avoids flex/extension but increases ulnar deviation).
    • Bent back: Use extended handles; work on raised surface (i.e., cut wood).
  • Raise cutting pieces to waist height (off floor to raised surface such as a portable workbench).
  • Position work for ideal worker position: Plan location of work to prevent extra bending, reaching, or twisting.
  • Use long handles; cheater bars; and extended power tools, handles, or wands.
  • Preplan: Set up work area before working.

Forceful Exertion:

  • Transport heavy equipment/material: Use wheels to carry equipment or material (flat surface with wheels).
  • Purchase material in smaller quantities or break up loads.
  • Avoid double handling materials/equipment: Preplan task; position close to installation location the first time handled.
  • Reduce pinch/grip: Use tools (knife, scissors, scorer) to open containers.
  • Increase friction by adding grip on handles or wear gloves (good for viscous adhesive).
  • Use tools that fit your hand.
  • Use power/pneumatic tools in place of manual tools (i.e., nailer).
  • Use only sharp blades.
  • Lift with your legs.
  • Add handles on the object to improve grip (surface carts).

Contact Stress:
On knees:

  • Consistently wear knee pads or use floor cushions.
  • Stand when able.

On hands:

  • Wear gloves.
  • Avoid tools that end in the palm of the hand

Vibration: moderate level (i.e., grinders, sanders, impact drivers, drills)

  • Wear antivibration gloves.
  • Avoid excessively large handles.
  • Perform regular equipment maintenance to minimize vibration.
  • Select equipment with vibration-damped mechanism or avoid hand contact with vibrating surface.
  • Avoid combined risk (bent back and vibratory sander; kneel/bent back with saw on floor).
  • Combined risks are worse:
    • Forceful lifting and bent back objects on floor.
    • Kneeling on all fours with bent back for prolonged periods.
    • Bent back and forceful exertion to hammer/nail wood for long periods.
  • Good work practices:
    • Preplan work tasks to reduce risks.
    • Have ideal equipment/tools when needed.
    • Alternate tasks to avoid long periods of the same risk (awkward posture, forceful exertion, contact stress).
    • Avoid double handling or unnecessary handling of equipment or materials.
    • Use personal protective equipment consistently (knee pads; hearing, eye, and respiratory protection; and others as indicated).
    • Work in upright positions as much as possible.

Flooring material and installation methods: Trade-off in ergonomic risks
A. Floating
Pro: Low force required to install.
Con: Prolonged kneeling/bent-back posture.
Recommendations: Wear good kneepads consistently; frequently alternate racking and assembly tasks; stand upright to saw boards/retrieve material.

B. Nail-down
Pro: Alternates body postures by kneeling to rack wood and standing up to nail boards.
Con: Combined risk to nail (bent back/forceful exertion).
Recommendations: Use light weight pneumatic nailer.

C. Glue-down
Pro: Avoids impact from nailer; frequently alternates task of gluing and wood installation.
Con: Forceful exertion with awkward wrist postures to apply adhesive.
Recommendations: Use an inline or angled trowel handle with a handle that allows good friction with palm (reducing required grip force).

Helpful Ergonomic Resources:

Presented by instructors from the Floor Layers Joint Apprenticeship Program of St. Louis and Washington University.

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