Despite the fact that the OSHA Ergonomics Program Standard was overturned by President Bush last March, poor ergonomics—not fitting the job to the worker—can still earn you a citation under OSHA's General Duty clause. It can also cause your technicians to suffer from repetitive motion injuries that can result in musculosketal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis. Technicians are particularly at risk because repeatedly performing the same hand/arm related tasks can result in nerve damage in the wrist and arm.
Of course, ergnomically correct furniture—ideally with adjustable bench heights and seat backs that tilt—is essential. Simple, inexpensive preventive measures can also be very effective. For example:
Educate employees about the importance of correct posture. They should sit with their spine against the back of the chair with shoulders relaxed.
Adjust the angle of instruments and equipment so that technicians are not forced to slump over their work. "We froze the position of our stereoscopes because they would always drift down with the weight of someone's face," says Robert Flickinger, CDT, Flickinger Dental Lab, Vero Beach, Florida. "This way, we must hold our heads higher and not slouch down over the microscope, which prevents neck fatigue."
Use a gel-filled or padded support to rest and cushion wrists. Some technicians use the pads meant for computer keyboards, available at office supply stores.
Encourage employees to take breaks to rest muscles.
Maintain equipment so it's not placing an unnecessary strain on technicians. "Old, worn out burs or wheels on the model trimmer require you to exert excessive force in order to adequately grind or trim," says Carol Gibson, who had carpal tunnel surgery in 1987 and is now an in-house technician for Bruce Roach, DDS, Waterford, Michigan.
Recognize the symptoms of repetitive motion injuries—numbness or tingling in the fingers and neck, arm or back pain and aching muscles—and see a doctor.