In Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, Postal Service™ employees reported over 30,000 recordable industrial accidents. Of those, almost 9,000 (or 30 percent) were related to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These disorders are illnesses or injuries that affect one or more parts of the musculoskeletal system, which is the soft tissue and bone structure of the body. These injuries primarily involve the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that allow us to move and use our joints. The most frequent body parts affected are the back, shoulder, and wrist. The study of ergonomics helps to prevent MSDs.
Ergonomics is simply “fitting the task to the person or making things user-friendly.” Ergonomics looks at a task, sees how it is done, and evaluates how to provide a method that is a better fit to the worker and their capabilities. For example, a task requiring you to extend and reach could be modified by moving the object closer to you or by using a reach pole. Sometimes equipment or workstation changes can be used to make a task easier and reduce risk of injury. Other solutions may include change of methods, techniques, or job rotation to reduce the risk. Ergonomics is not only applicable to work, but to sports, recreational, and leisure activities as well.
MSDs are “wear-and-tear” injuries that occur over a period of time. MSDs develop very differently from sudden, traumatic injuries, such as cuts, bruises, or broken bones. They can take weeks, months, or even years to develop.
MSD risk factors include awkward posture, force, and repetitive motion. In FY 2020, 54 percent of the MSDs were related to posture, 23 percent to repetitive motion risk factors, and 23 percent to force risk factors:
- Awkward posture. Any significantly bent or twisted body position that places additional stress on any part of the body or slows the flow of blood to that body part.
- Force. When excessive force is applied to perform a task, such as heavy lifting or pushing rolling stock full of mail. Even something as small as holding an object between the thumb and fingers in a pinch grip can add up to big force over time.
- Repetitive motion. When a joint or body part repeats the same motion a number of times. An example could be the number of lifts or the number of pinch grips performed per minute or simple everyday actions, such as texting on a cell phone, keying on a laptop, or jogging.
By following the safety policies and procedures established in your facility and by using good ergonomic methods for every activity, you will help to prevent wear-and-tear injuries.
For more information about ergonomics, check out the following resources:
- Ergonomic Safety talks module in the HERO system under “My Learning.”
- Safety Depends on Me videos: blue.usps.gov/corpcomm/uspstv/safety-and-health.
- A–Z Safety Topics on Blue: blue.usps.gov/hr/safety/a-z-safety-toolkit.htm.
- Wellness videos: liteblue.usps.gov/humanresources/benefits/health-wellness/wellness-videos.shtml.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): osha.gov/ergonomics.
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC): cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ergonomics.
- National Safety Council: nsc.org/hidden-pages/member-newsletters/usps-safety-spotlight?utm_source=sfmc&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MBRDeliveringSafety012021&utm_content=#Know.
— Occupational Safety and Health,
Human Resources, 1-28-21