Knowledge Sharing & Collaboration
Occupational Safety & Health
What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the science that studies how to best make the work environment fit the worker. The goal of ergonomics is to help prevent injury and increase comfort and productivity. When ergonomic principles are applied in the work environment, visual and musculoskeletal discomfort and fatigue can be significantly reduced. By making adjustments to your work area and personal practices, you can minimize the risk factors that can contribute to injuries.
What are Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders?
Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs) are injuries that involve the body's muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments or nerves and which are caused by a workplace activity. These injuries can take months or years to develop and can also take a long time to heal, which is why prevention of WMSDs is so important. WMSDs commonly occur in the neck, shoulder, elbow, hand, wrist, or back. Tendonitis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Tennis Elbow (Epicondylitis) are examples of diagnosed WMSDs.
What are the Common Office Risk Factors for WMSDs?
In an office setting, the most common risk factors that can increase the risk of developing an MSD, are excessive repetitions motions, awkward postures, static postures, excessive forces, and contact pressure.
- Excessive Repetition: Performing repeated motions in the same way with the same body part.
- Awkward Postures: Placing a joint towards its extreme end of movement in any direction away from its neutral, centered position.
- Static Postures: Holding an object or a body position in a still, fixed manner.
- Excessive Force: Performing an activity with excessive muscular exertion/force.
- Contact or Continuous Pressure: Direct pressure on soft tissues from resting or action against a hard surface.
Examples of Risk Factors
Contact Pressure caused by wrists resting on a hard desk
Awkward and Static posture caused by reaching for and holding a mouse
Awkward posture of the neck caused by looking down at documents
What are some symptoms of a WMSD?
- Recurring or continuous pain or discomfort
- Redness or swelling
- Limited range of motion
- Numbing or tingling sensation
- Decreasing hand grip strength
How do I stay healthy and prevent an injury?
The key to preventing a WMSD is in educating yourself about the factors that can contribute to discomfort and injuries and then applying some basic ergonomic principles to make changes that will improve your positioning and the organization of your work area. You need to take an active role in preventing and injury. Here’s how to get started:
- Attend an Office Ergonomic Awareness Training Class to learn more about the factors that can cause discomfort and how to make simple changes to your work area.
- Take a look at these Ergonomic Tid Bits for information focused on specific workstation issues:
- Learn more about how to set up your computer workstation and about the causes of discomfort
Easy Ergonomics for Desktop Computer Users
This detailed booklet includes useful information for desktop computer users about how to set up your computer workstation, identifying common workstation problems and targeting solutions to improve comfort and productivity.
Four Steps for Setting up your Computer Workstation
This website has easy to follow steps for setting up your computer workstation
Healthy Computing Office Ergonomic Set-up
This section of the Healthy Computing Website provides useful set-up ideas for your computer workstation.
Healthy Computing Causes of Discomfort
This section of the Healthy Computing website provides insight into possible causes of your symptoms.
What should I do if I have discomfort or an injury that I think is related to my work?
Sometimes ergonomic issues at your work area can start with a little discomfort. If ignored, the discomfort may become worse over a period of time and can result in an injury, such as a Musculoskeletal Disorder (WMSD.)
If you think you have a work-related injury, you should report the injury to your supervisor immediately. Follow your Department’s Injury and Illness Reporting procedures for more information about what to do if you have an injury at work
Where Can I Purchase Ergonomic Equipment and Furniture?
Purchasing items that are appropriate to the task and the employee may be part of the solution for resolving ergonomic issues. Many commonly used items, such as wrist rests, document holders, and foot supports can be purchased through our regular materials and supplies vendors, such as Staples. However, some items, such as special keyboards, mice, back supports, chairs and adjustable furniture, may need to be purchased through more specialized city-approved vendors.
Please contact your health and safety staff if you have any questions regarding where items can be purchased or on the selection of a vendor that carries the item you are interested in. If you do not have Department Health and Safety Staff, you may contact DPH Occupational Safety and Health Section (OSH), Ergonomic Services for additional information about city approved vendors.
Some City locations may have additional restrictions on the selection of vendors that can be used for these purchases. Check with your on-site health and safety staff for more information on the equipment and furniture options that are available.
Where Can I Get More Information about Ergonomics and Other Health and Safety Issues in the Workplace?
To learn more about ergonomics and workplace safety, take a look at these links:
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: Ergonomics
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders health topics website. This link has extensive information about ergonomics and risk factors for a variety of occupational settings.
How do I request an evaluation of my workstation?
A one-on-one workstation evaluation is another step to get help making changes to your workstation. Contact your Department’s health and safety staff to request assistance. See the DPH-OSH Services Section to determine if an on-site evaluation can be coordinated through DPH Occupation Safety and Health.
Note: if you have filed a worker’s compensation claim for an ergonomic injury, the ergonomic evaluation is coordinated by your claims examiner through an outside vendor.
DPH-OSH Office Ergonomic Services
The Department of Public Health, Occupational Safety and Health (DPH-OSH) Section provides a variety of ergonomic services to eligible CCSF employees and Departments for the prevention of workplace injuries. Our services are available to employees who are trying to make changes to their work behaviors and computer workstations to prevent an injury or to address only mild discomfort.
Who is Eligible for DPH-OSH Ergonomic Services?
Ergonomic services are provided by the DPH-OSH Section to eligible CCSF employees. Eligible CCSF employees must meet all of the following conditions:
- The employee does not have an open Workers’ Compensation (WC) claim for ergonomic related issues.
- An employee with an open WC claim meeting all of the other conditions below may enroll in the Office Ergonomics Awareness Training class. However, an on-site ergonomic evaluation should be requested by the employee’s treating medical provider through the WC system. DPH-OSH does not provide ergonomic evaluations for WC cases.
- The employee’s own Department does not have in-house health and safety staff.
- Departments that have their own health and safety staff include the Airport, Public Works, Government Services Agency (GSA) Departments, Public Utilities Commission, Recreation and Parks, Port of San Francisco, SF Municipal Transportation Agency (MUNI, DPT), Housing Authority and the Human Services Agency.
- Employees working for these departments should contact their safety and health staff for more information about ergonomic services.
- In addition, DPH-OSH services are not available to employees of the SF Unified School District, Community College District, Housing Authority, or SF Superior Court.
- The employee must be an employee of CCSF. They cannot be a contract worker or employed by any other employer even if they are assigned to a CCSF Department.
DPH-OSH offers the following Ergonomic Services:
Office Ergonomic Awareness Training
On-Site Office Ergonomic Evaluations
Office Ergonomic Awareness Training
- DPH-OSH offers an Office Ergonomic Awareness Training Class to eligible CCSF employees. There is no charge for the class.
- The class length is 2 hours and is offered regularly throughout the year. See the current class schedule for specific dates and locations.
- Classes may be provided at other locations if there is a minimum of 20 employees who can attend the class, and the host department can provide a meeting location appropriate for the training. We may also be able to provide additional training for your staff at our location. Contact Nancy Terranova (554-2651) or Karen Heckman (554-2762) if you are interested in discussing training options.
- Employees are required to attend the Office Ergonomic Awareness Training Class prior to requesting an on-site office ergonomic evaluation from DPH-OSH.
How do I enroll in the Office Ergonomic Awareness Training class?
- To enroll in the class, complete the Office Ergonomic Awareness Training Enrollment Request Form.
- Employees must have their supervisor’s approval to attend the class.
- We have limited space in our classes and classes fill quickly. We ask that participants give us at least 3 work days notice if they cannot attend a class so that someone from the waiting list can be contacted. Failure to provide this notice may result in low priority enrollment in any future class.
The key to preventing ergonomic injures is to understand what causes them and making changes before an injury can develop. In this class, students learn how to identify problems associated with computer use that may lead to discomfort or injury and simple solutions for resolving issues. The class focuses on low cost solutions and shows a variety of options for resolving the most common problems. Once employees attend the training they are asked to conduct a self-evaluation of their own workstations and share their findings with their supervisor. Course contents include:
- Definitions and terminology related to ergonomics
- Health concerns often associated with computer use
- How to identify risk factors that can lead to injury and methods to reduce risk factors
- Equipment and non-equipment solutions for improving comfort at a computer workstation
- How to perform a self-assessment of your workstation
How do I request an on-site Office Ergonomic Evaluation from DPH-OSH?
In order for an employee to become a partner in developing and implementing solutions that affect their comfort at work, DPH-OSH requires employees to first attend an Office Ergonomic Awareness Training Class prior to scheduling an on-site evaluation.
Many employees are able to correct problems on their own after taking the class and completing a self evaluation of their workstation. However, if additional assistance is needed, a request can be made for DPH-OSH staff to conduct an on-site office ergonomic evaluation. DPH-OSH does not provide funding to purchase any items that may be recommended nor does DPH-OSH order any items for your department. Due to staffing limitations and demand DPH-OSH may limit the number of evaluations provided to any one Department.
On-site Office Ergonomic Evaluations are provided to eligible CCSF employees who also meet all of the following conditions:
- The employee does not have an open workers’ compensation (WC) claim.
- If there is an open WC claim, then a request for an ergonomic evaluation should be made by the employee’s treating medical provider through their WC Claims Examiner.
- The employee has attended the DPH-OSH Office Ergonomic Awareness Training Class.
- The employee has conducted a self-evaluation of their workstation and the employee has shared the results of their self-evaluation with their supervisor.
- The supervisor must request the on-site evaluation.
- The requesting department has determined that a budget is available to purchase equipment that may be recommended as a result of the evaluation.
How to Request an Office Ergonomic Evaluation
- To request an on-site office ergonomic evaluation, the supervisor completes the Request for On-Site Office Ergonomic Evaluation Form and sends the form by inter-office mail or fax to:
DPH-OSH Section Ergonomic Services
101 Grove Street, Room 217
Fax: (415) 554-2570
The employee’s supervisor must sign the request form. Upon receipt of a completed Request Form the DPH-OSH Section will contact the employee to obtain additional information and schedule the evaluation. Evaluations are prioritized in the order received.
- After the evaluation is completed, findings and recommendations will be sent to the requesting supervisor and the employee by inter-office mail or e-mail.
- The report will contain an assessment of identified risk factors and recommendations for changes and equipment purchases.
- For all purchase recommendations, City approved vendors will be provided.
- The requesting Department is responsible for contacting the vendors for quotes and for any equipment purchases.
Contact DPH-OSH Staff, Nancy Terranova (554-2651) or Karen Heckman (554-2762), if you have any questions.