Environmental, Health and Safety Services

Ergonomics Definitions

Administrative controls Changes in the way that work in a job is assigned or scheduled that reduce the magnitude, frequency or duration of exposure to ergonomic risk factors.

Awkward posture Deviation from the ideal working posture. Awkward postures include reaching behind, twisting forward or backward bending, pinching, and squatting.

Arthritis inflammation of a joint or joints.

Carpal tunnel syndrome a compression of the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the heel of the hand.

Chronic low back pain general soreness and fatigue of the low back; pain is usually constant, and it accompanies most activities. It is just one of many potential MDS's.

Constriction binding, squeezing, or shrinking blood vessels so that circulation is reduced.

Control MSD Hazards To reduce MSD hazards to the extent that they are no longer reasonably likely to cause MSDs that result in work restrictions or medical treatment beyond first aid.

Cubital tunnel syndrome compression of the ulnar nerve as it passes through the notch of the elbow.

Cumulative trauma disorder damage to body tissue by outside forces that has built up over time.

Degenerative disc disease a breakdown of the discs that separate the vertebrae of the spine.

DeQuervain's Disease an inflammation of the tendon and/or its sheath at the base of the thumb.

Digital neuritis compression of the nerves along the sides of the fingers or thumbs.

Engineering controls A method of controlling worker exposure to risk factors by redesigning equipment, tools, and work stations. Engineering controls are part o hazard prevention and control.

Ergonomics The scientific study of human work. The term comes from the Greek words "ergos" meaning work, and "nomos," meaning natural laws of. Ergonomics considers the physical and mental capabilities and limits of the worker during interaction with tools, equipment, work methods, tasks, and the working environment.

Engineering controls are physical changes to a job that reduce MSD hazards. Examples of engineering controls include changing or redesigning workstations, tools, facilities, equipment, materials, or processes.

Epicondylitis an inflammation of the tendons at the elbow. Also called tennis elbow (lateral or outside part of the elbow), or golfer's elbow (medial or inside part of the elbow).

Follow-up means the process or protocol an employer or HCP uses to check on the condition of an employee after a work restriction is imposed on that employee.

Fatigue A condition that results when the body cannot provide enough energy for the muscles to perform a task.

Forcefulness The amount of physical effort a person uses to do a task.

Ganglionic cyst swelling of the tendon and sheath due to the build-up of synovial fluid inside the sheath. The cyst usually causes a bump under the skin.

Hand-arm vibration Vibration (generally from a hand tool) that goes through the hand, then travels through the rest of the body.

Hazard prevention and control Eliminating or minimizing the hazards identified in the worksite analysis. It is changing the jobs, workstations, tools or environment to fit the worker. Hazard prevention and control is an element of the ergonomics program.

Health care professionals (HCPs) are physicians or other licensed health care professionals whose legally permitted scope of practice (e.g., license, registration or certification) allows them to provide independently or to be delegated the responsibility to carry out some or all of the MSD management or Return to Work requirements of Executive Order 52.

Job means the physical work activities or tasks that an employee performs. This program considers jobs to be the same if they involve the same physical work activities or tasks, even if the jobs have different titles or classifications.

Incidence rate the rate at which new injuries and illnesses occur for a given job. Incidence rates express the number of new work-related musculoskeletal disorders occurring per year or other specified time period. They allow comparison of the numbers of injuries or illnesses between and within jobs and departments from year to year.

Mechanical contact stress The contact of the body with a hard surface or edge that results in the compression of tissue. Can also result when using a part of the body as a hammer or striking instrument.

Musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) is a disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, blood vessels, or spinal discs. This includes MSDs in the following areas of the body that have been associated with exposure to risk factors: neck, shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, hand, abdomen (hernia only), back, knee, ankle, and foot. MSDs may include muscle strains and tears, ligament sprains, joint and tendon inflammation, pinched nerves, and spinal disc degeneration. MSDs include such medical conditions as:

low back paintension neck syndrome
carpal tunnel syndromerotator cuff syndrome
DeQuervain's syndrometrigger finger
tarsal tunnel syndromesciatica
epicondylitistendinitis
Raynaud's phenomenonhand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)
carpet layer's kneeherniated spinal disc

Injuries arising from slips, trips, falls, motor vehicle accidents, or similar accidents are not considered MSDs.

MSD hazard the presence of risk factors in the job that occur at a magnitude , duration, or frequency that is reasonably likely to cause MSDs that result in work restrictions or medical treatment beyond first aid.

MSD signs are objective physical findings that an employee may be developing an MSD. Examples of MSD signs are:

    1. Decreased range of motion;
    2. Deformity;
    3. Decreased grip strength; and
    4. Loss of muscle function.

MSD symptoms are physical indications that an employee may be developing an MSD. Examples of MSD symptoms are:

    1. Pain;
    2. Numbness;
    3. Tingling;
    4. Burning;
    5. Cramping; and
    6. Stiffness.

Musculoskeletal system The soft tissue and bones in the body. The parts of the musculoskeletal system are bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, nerves, and blood vessels.

Neutral posture Comfortable working posture that reduces the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. The joints are naturally aligned with elbows at the side of the body and wrists straight.

Non-specific backache general soreness and fatigue of the low back.

Personal Protective Equipment Gloves, kneepads and other equipment that may help reduce hazards until other controls can be implemented, or to supplement existing controls. Examples of PPE are vibration-reduction gloves and carpet layer's knee pads.

NOTE: backbelts are NOT considered PPE.

Raynaud's Phenomenon a constriction of the blood vessels in the hands and fingers. Also called "white finger."

Records review Reviewing university records to identify patterns of injuries (or potential injuries) to help find the jobs and workstations that may contain musculoskeletal hazards.

Repetitiveness Performing the same motions repeatedly. The severity of risk depends on the frequency of repetition, speed of the movement or action, the number of muscle groups involved, and the required force.

Risk factors An aspect of a job that increases the worker's chance of getting a work-related musculoskeletal disorder from force, awkward posture, repetition, vibration, and contact stress.

Rotator cuff tendinitis inflammation of one or more tendons at the shoulder. Also called "Pitcher's Shoulder."

Severity rate the cost (in terms of lost workdays) of new injuries and illnesses occurring in a given job.

Static loading Physical effort or posture that is held and requires muscle contraction for more than a short time. As muscles remain contracted, the blood flow to the muscles is reduced. (Also sustained exertions.)

Sustained exertions Physical effort or posture that is held and requires muscle contraction for more than a short time. As muscles remain contracted, the blood flow to the muscles is reduced. Also static loading.)

Sprain overstretching of overexertion of a ligament that results in a tear or rupture of the ligament.

Tendinitis inflammation of the tendon inside the sheath.

Tenosynovitis inflammation of the sheath around the tendon.

Thoracic outlet syndrome compression of the nerves and blood vessels between the neck and shoulder often associated with prolonged overhead work.

Trigger finger a common term for tendinitis or tenosynovitis that causes painful locking of the finger(s) while flexing.

Ulnar nerve entrapment compression of the ulnar nerve as it passes through thewrist, often associated with prolonged flexion and extension of the wrist and pressure on the palm.

Workplace Ergonomics Program A systematic method (similar to an accident prevention or quality improvement program) used to evaluate, prevent and manage work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The main elements of ergonomics program are worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control and training and education.

Work practice controls Procedures for safe and proper work that are used to reduce the duration, frequency or severity of exposure to a hazard. They include work methods training, job rotation, and gradual introduction to work. Work practice controls are part of hazard prevention and control. Examples of work practice controls for MSD hazards include:

    1. Use of neutral postures to perform tasks (straight wrists, lifting close to the body);
    2. Use of two-person lift teams;
    3. Observance of micro-breaks.

Work-related means that an exposure in the workplace caused or contributed to an MSD or significantly aggravated a pre-existing MSD.

Work restrictions are limitations, during the recovery period, on an employee's exposure to MSD hazards. Work restrictions based on the Virginia Tech Return-to-Work policy may involve limitations on the work activities of the employee's current job (light duty), transfer to temporary alternative duty jobs, or temporary removal from the workplace to recover.

Worksite analysis A safety and health review that addresses work-related musculoskeletal disorders. It is a structured way of identifying jobs and workstations that may contain musculoskeletal hazards, the risk factors that pose the hazards, and the causes of the risk factors. Worksite analysis is an element of the ergonomics program.