Ergonomics Unit

The Ergonomics Unit conducts ergonomic related research. It performs ergonomic risk assessments at various workplaces and Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome clinical assessments of workers who operate vibrating hand tools. The unit also offers ergonomics training to occupational health practitioners and responds to queries on ergonomic issues such as manual material handling, musculoskeletal disorders, computer workstation design and layout.

Ergonomic Risk Assessment

The section conducts ergonomic risk assessments to identify ergonomic risk factors which may lead to the development of musculoskeletal disorders.

Procedure for an ergonomic risk assessment:

  • A workplace representative such as an occupational health nurse contacts the Ergonomics Unit and requests an ergonomics risk assessment to be done.
  • Ergonomics Unit staff members:
    1. Conduct a walkthrough evaluation of the workplace.
    2. Write a proposal.
    3. Carry out the workplace risk assessment.
    4. Compile a comprehensive report with findings and recommendations.
    5. Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders

Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders are illnesses which affect the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, intervertebral discs, nerves, joints and blood vessels. They can be caused or aggravated by work. The common symptoms are pain, numbness and tingling in the affected area. Musculoskeletal disorders of the upper limb are recognized as work related. These are disorders of the shoulder, upper and lower arm, wrist and hand. In South Africa, they are compensable under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) 130 of 1993. The process of compensation of these disorders is described in the Circular Instruction 180 of COIDA. Examples of upper limb musculoskeletal disorders are lateral epicondylitis, extensor tenosynovitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. The jobs that are associated with these disorders include working in static posture, repetitive movements, extreme wrist flexion or extension and forceful exertions.

Hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) clinical assessments

HAVS is a condition that encompasses damage to the sensorineural, vascular and or musculoskeletal system of the upper limb resulting from regular use of vibrating hand tools. The common symptoms are tingling and numbness (neurological system), blanching of fingers (vascular system) and pain (musculoskeletal system).

Provides clinical assessments of workers who operate vibrating hand tools such as grinders and rock drills for hand arm vibration syndrome.

Procedure for carrying out HAVS clinical assessment:

  • A workplace representative such as an occupational health nurse refers workers suspected of HAVS because of regular use of vibrating hand tools.
  • Obtain the workers’ occupational and medical history.
  • Perform physical examination.
  • Conduct standardized tests for HAVS.
    1. Thermal Aesthesiometry – Assesses temperature sensation.
    2. Vibrotactile Threshold – Assesses vibration sensation.
    3. Cold Provocation – Assesses vascular damage.
  • Staging of symptoms