Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders

About Ergonomics and Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders

Key points

  • Ergonomics is the design of work tasks to best suit the capabilities of workers.
  • Ergonomics can help reduce or eliminate work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) and other injuries and improve safety.
  • Ergonomics programs provide guidelines for reducing workplace risk factors, which can lead to reduced workplace injuries.
Workers in matching uniforms sorting cardboard boxes on a conveyer belt

Defining ergonomics

A man uses a crane to assist a lift in a manufacturing setting
Use assistive lifting devices to prevent injuries.

In occupational health, ergonomics is the design of work tasks and job demands to fit the capabilities of the working population. The goal of ergonomics is to reduce and prevent musculoskeletal disorders caused by multiple factors. These include:

  • Physical (work tasks such as pushing, pulling, or lifting)
  • Psychosocial (mental wellbeing influenced by social factors)
  • Personal (age, sex, and body mass index)

In simple terms, the goal of ergonomics is to prevent discomfort and injuries caused by work.

NIOSH researchers recommend designing the work environment to fit employees' physical capabilities and limitations. Elements of the work environment can include:

  • Tools
  • Lighting
  • Equipment

This practice helps creates an ergonomically-sound work environment.

Terms to know

Using an understanding of ergonomics, employers, workers, and other parties can work together to design effective programs to prevent and minimize work-related discomfort and injuries. Here are some key terms to help you better understand ergonomics.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

Disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs that

  • Are caused by sudden or sustained force, vibration, repetitive motion, or awkward postures.
  • Are not the result of any instantaneous non-exertion event (e.g., slips, trips, or falls).
  • May be mild to intense and cause occasional to chronic pain.
  • Can be leading indicator for disability.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs)

MSDs that can be attributed to the work environment and the performance of work.

Ergonomics program

A systematic process for identifying, analyzing, and controlling workplace risk factors, often for reducing MSDs.

Workplace risks

WMSDs can be caused or worsened by work conditions that require employees to:

  • Lift, push, pull, or carry many or irregularly shaped objects
  • Maintain awkward/unnatural postures
  • Withstand cold temperatures
  • Withstand vibrations from machinery and tools
  • Increase the intensity, frequency, and duration of activities
  • Endure psychosocial stressors

Learn more‎

Learn how to prevent WMSDs by following the steps in the Elements of Ergonomics Programs.


NIOSHTIC-2 search

See the NIOSHTIC-2 database search results on Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders. NIOSHTIC-2 is a database of occupational safety and health publications funded in whole or in part by NIOSH.

Health Hazard Evaluation reports

Search the NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Reports for content related to ergonomics.

NIOSH Science Blog

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