Ergonomic Overview

Ergonomic Overview

By Harry Cheff, Risk Management Associate

 Every spring and summer, schools across Montana begin a routine that has become a sort of time-honored tradition.  The ritual plays out pretty much along these familiar lines: teachers pack up their classrooms, food-service personal complete a final cleaning of the cafeteria areas, administration finalizes the list of summer projects to be completed, and custodial and maintenance personal gear up for tackling the summer tasks. 

Regardless of the role an employee plays in this transition from spring to summer in preparation for students to return to school in August or September, many – and perhaps most – staff will be required to undertake such activities as lifting, twisting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, holding, reaching, repetitive motion, jumping, and leaping. 

Many staff members will perform these types of body movements to varying degrees, and a significant percentage will do so repeatedly.  Not surprisingly, the bulk of the claims received at MSGIA associated with these tasks are “Strain or Injury By,” as the majority are associated in some significant way with the above activities.  To reduce the likelihood of injury, employees undertaking these manual-labor type tasks should be encouraged to apply sound, ergonomic principles, and proper body mechanics.

Shoulder and back injuries are often cumulative in nature, resulting from repeated and improper bending, twisting and lifting.  Because of improper material handling, an employee will experience back pain that may result in discomfort, missed work, and, in more severe cases, necessary medical procedures.  The resulting “Strain or Injury By” claims can be costly and render an employee unable to work for extended periods. 

The most common cause of back injuries is poor body mechanics.  To avoid these types of injuries, employees need to follow some simple steps associated with the material handling tasks:

  • First, let mechanical aides assist you.  The more common mechanical aides for staff are utility carts, handcarts, furniture dollies, desk movers, and the MSGIA hydraulic garbage can lift to name just a few. REMEMBER:  The best lift is one you don’t do at all!
  • Second, plan the lift.
  • Third, if you must lift something, bend your knees and use your legs to lift. Also, NEVER bend, twist, and lift at the same time!
  • Fourth, reverse the motion when setting an item down.

Joint, back and neck injuries can be costly, especially when associated with an aging workforce.  Fortunately, many, and perhaps even most, of these types of injuries are avoidable if the employee takes an informed approach to the job.  In other words, if employees are trained to recognize the early signs of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s) associated with repetitive motion tasks, which are those activities that most commonly place the body at risk.  If, for instance, a person senses tingling (pins and needles) connected with some repeated activity, s/he needs to change positions if possible. More generally, it behooves employees to try to break up all repetitive jobs into smaller, less repetitive tasks. 

The key to eliminating injuries is simple.  Allow the body adequate recovery time when performing the same or similar movements over a prolonged period of time.  If the tissue has adequate time to recover, the employee will avoid injury.   Also, if employees stay hydrated, limber and loose through stretching, and if they take breaks when their muscles begin to tire or feel sore, they will decrease their odds of injury. 

The time to avoid an injury is not at the time of the injury; it is before one begins a task when preventative steps can still be pursued.  Aware of this fact, districts provide on-going training for staff to help them and their schools avoid “Strain or Injury By” and repetitive motion type claims. 

MSGIA is available to provide training specific to claims related to your district, including stretches that will help ward off these injuries. Staff can also access the MSGIA website and view the Safe-Schools training available at Each district also has been assigned their own Safe Schools page. We are available to assist with accessing this information at the district. Return to newsletter