Ergo Primer Cover Art

If you are looking for the original document it is available at Elements of Ergonomics Programs (1997 version)

If you are looking for the mobile lifting app it is available at NIOSH Lifting Equation App: NLE Calc


This site was created to provide basic information useful for employers, workers and others in designing an effective ergonomics program to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs). It outlines practical strategies for identifying and correcting ergonomic deficiencies in a variety of workplace settings. Defining key elements of an effective program, the site allows you to tailor the information to your particular work setting or situation. It also provides a number of useful materials including references, sources for further information, and generic forms and questionnaires.

Where to find guidance on ergonomics in safe patient handling

This site focuses on ways to minimize physical exertion in jobs that involve lifting and handling objects – not people.  Ergonomics programs for maximizing safety while lifting and mobilizing patients require methods and equipment that have become highly specialized for the particular needs of healthcare tasks and settings.  You can find a great deal of information on Safe Patient Handling and Mobility (SPHM) on the NIOSH SPHM Topic Page.  It contains links to SPHM guidelines from various organizations, including the most recently-published and comprehensive guidelines and tools available for free from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

Key terms

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

  • Disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs that
    • are caused by sudden or sustained physical exertion
    • are not the result of any instantaneous non-exertion event (e.g., slips, trips, or falls)
    • range in severity from mild/occasional to intense/chronic pain

Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs)

  • MSDs that can be attributed to the work environment and the performance of work
    • MSDs that are made worse or longer lasting 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


  • The science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population

Ergonomics Program

  • A systematic process for identifying, analyzing, and controlling workplace risk factors, often for reducing musculoskeletal disorders

Together, employers, workers, and other parties with an understanding of ergonomics can design effective programs to prevent and minimize WMSDs.

Start caring about musculoskeletal disorders

WMSDs are costly and can significantly reduce worker productivity and morale. Workers suffering from MSDs have difficulty meeting the demands of their jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statisticsexternal icon reported 31% (356,910 cases) of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in 2015 were related to MSDs. The median days away from work for a WMSD is 12 days, compared to eight days off for other work-related injuries. Ergonomics programs enable employers to detect WMSD problems and develop solutions[1]. This approach prevents further losses in productivity, quality, and profit by lowering rates of absenteeism, lost time injury, and worker compensation premiums.

To design an ergonomic intervention for WMSDs you must understand work-processes, job tasks, equipment, and workplace layouts. Your first objective is to determine whether machines or people are best suited to complete a particular job task. Ideally, workers should not experience undue stress or strain when using tools, job methods, workstation layouts, and materials. Develop a proactive engineering approach that eliminates the risk factors for WMSDs in that job. Proactive action can help management and workers anticipate and prevent WMSD problems. Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling outlines a proactive action plan in four steps: 1) look for clues, 2) prioritize jobs or improvements, 3) make improvements, and 4) maintain involvement (2007).

Imagine an appliance manufacturer designed a new assembly line that prevents WMSDs without limiting production. Management evaluated musculoskeletal injury patterns, risk factors, and possible engineering solutions. Assembly line workers, engineers and management recognized job risk factors and cooperatively planned a new assembly line. Workers now use pneumatic tools to open clamps and lift heavy appliances to reduce awkward postures and static (constant) exertion forces. Workers also use height-adjustable turn tables, work tables and shelving units to reduce risks associated with overhead work, reaching, bending, and maintaining awkward postures. Once management establishes baseline injury rates, follow up on symptom surveys to determine injury trends and outcomes. Then, periodically fine-tune the production line as workers become more skilled in their jobs.

Use this guide to prevent WMSDs

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is able to provide quality technical assistance to employers and workers because of its extensive practical experience with evaluating workplace settings. Use this step-by-step guide to evaluate and address musculoskeletal concerns in your workplace.

There are seven simple steps:

[1] United States. (1997). Worker protection: Private sector ergonomics programs yield positive results : report to Congressional requesters. Washington, D.C. (P.O. Box 37050, Washington 20013: The Office. http://www.gao.gov/archive/1997/he97163.pdfpdf iconexternal icon

Page last reviewed: July 18, 2017