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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is developing an ergonomic program to improve the health of its employees by minimizing ergonomic stressors. The objective of any safety initiative is to prevent injuries and illnesses by removing their causes. For musculoskeletal disorder hazards we can achieve this by eliminating or reducing employee exposure.


Ergonomics (or human factors) is the sceintific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among human and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.
Ergonomic Stressors
Conditions that pose a biomechanical stress to the human body associated with increased risk for development of musculoskeletal disorders.
Musculoskeletal Disorder
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage and spinal discs. MSDs do not include disorders caused by slips, trips, falls, motor vehicle accidents, or other similar accidents. Examples of MSDs include: Carpal tunnel syndrome, Rotator cuff syndrome, De Quervain’s disease, Trigger finger, Tarsal tunnel syndrome, Sciatica, Epicondylitis, Tendinitis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, Carpet layers knee, Herniated spinal disc, and Low back pain.
Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorder Hazard (WMSD Hazard)
Work activities and/or work conditions in which ergonomic stressors are present that are reasonably likely to cause or contribute to an MSD.

Background Information

Ergonomic Stressors

Poor workplace designs can present ergonomic risk factors called stressors. These stressors include but are not limited to repetition, force, extreme postures, static postures, quick motions, contact pressure, vibration, and cold temperatures. (Ergonomcis: The Study of Work, OSHA)

Is the number of motions or movements that are performed per cycle or per shift
Is the muscles used to produce force in order to perform necessary activities such as lifting, grasping, pinching, pushing, etc.
Extreme Postures
Is when muscles are required to work at a level near or at their maximum capacity.
Static Postures
A special type of awkward posture which occurs when a body part is not moving, but is still doing work. Examples include sitting in a chair or holding an object.
Contact Pressure
Is the pressure from resting part of the body against a sharp edge or corner. Resting the wrists or forearms on an edge of a desk while typing is one example.
Exposure to local vibration occurs when a specific part of the body comes in contact with a vibrating object, such as a power handtool. Exposure to whole-body vibration can occur while standing or sitting in vibrating environments or objects, such as when operating heavy-duty vehicles or large machinery.
Cold Temperatures
Reduce the natural elasticity of the body and reduce the sensation of touch (tactile feedback). In order to get the same amount of tactile feedback, and employee may exert more force than is necessary.

Employee exposure to these stressors can cause injury or some type of MSD.

Symptoms of Musculoskeletal Disorder

Symptoms of MSD identify that one or more ergonomic stressors may be present. There may be individual difference in susceptibility and symptoms among employees performing similar tasks. Any symptoms are to be taken seriously. The following list of symptoms can be but are not limited to:

  • Numbness
  • Tightness
  • Tingling
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Redness

Work Strategy Controls

When an ergonomic hazard has been identified, the Environment, Health and Safety Office will work with the department in eliminating or minimizing the hazard. There are two general approaches to controlling ergonomic hazards: Engineering and Administrative.

Engineering Controls
Are changes made to the workstations, tools, and/or machinery that alter the physical composition of area or process.
Administrative Controls
Are changes made to regulate exposure without making physical changes to the area or process, for example taking frequent breaks and job rotations. In general, engineering control are preferred as their goal is to reduce the presence of hazards.


All employees are responsible for attending training on ergonomics via the EHS online orientation and for following proper work practices.

Departments are responsible for providing sufficient resources to implement ergonomic recommendations in a timely manner as well as ensuring that employees are properly trained.

The Environment, Health and Safety Office is responsible for evaluating and monitoring the ergonomic program including assessing the nature and extent of ergonomic hazards, recommending ways of minimizing or controlling these hazards, and supporting the University in consultation and direction regarding ergonomics. The Environment, Health and Safety Office is also responsible for ensuring that training on ergonomics is available to all employees.

Medical Management

If an employee is experiencing any signs or symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders, the employee is to report their symptoms to their supervisor and call the University Employee Occupational Health Clinic (UEOHC) at 919-966-9119 for a medical evaluation. The UEOHC will advise the employee, their supervisor, and the Environment, Health and Safety Office of the necessary follow-up.


The Environment, Health and Safety Office will provide ergonomic training to all employees in the New Employee Orientation Programs. The training program will include but not be limited to the definition of ergonomics, ergonomic stressors, types of MSDs, symptoms of MSD, reporting, and work strategy controls. These programs will also be added to the Health and Safety Office web site for reference and future training. Job specific ergonomic training programs will be presented to Departments upon request.