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Preventing Ergonomic Injuries

During the past several years, heavy equipment manufacturers have made significant strides in the creating more comfortable cabs for earthmoving and material handling equipment.

Ergonomía._Áreas_operativas_de_la_simetríaergonomicsThere is a reason why you can slide into a seat that adjusts to your height, or controls that slide to fit your arm’s length, a steering wheel adjusts to your comfortable reach, and you are surrounded by glass so you can see in every direction without straining your neck.

While these adjustments tend to make operating equipment more comfortable, they also help prevent long-term injury to your body.

If you have operated heavy equipment for more than a decade, you probably recall the days of hard, non-adjustable seats and limited range of view. You also may recall how the equipment vibrations seemed to make you feel tired and increasingly sore at the end of a day’s work.

In addition to vibrations, awkward postures and sitting in the same position for long time periods, prolonged exposure to heat and cold can lead to chronic pain and injury, according to a number of scientific and U.S. government studies. Ergonomic injuries, commonly referred to as musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), affect the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage and spinal discs.

You would think that sitting in equipment all day long would not be traumatic. In fact, both the movement of the machine across the ground and the vibration of the motor can affect the operator’s body. Certain types of vibration can cause little changes, or cumulative traumas, in the spine that can build up and cause injury. Also, sitting in the same position for extended times can cause muscle fatigue, particularly in the back.

Operating equipment during cold weather without a heater causes muscles to remain tense and can produce muscle strain, which can compound the affect of the vibration.

Fortunately, equipment manufacturers have improved the operator environments by separating cabs from the equipment’s main body and setting them on springs that absorb vibrations. Seats sit on air suspension systems that also absorb vibrations. Most modern seats have more cushioning and head rests.

Visibility also is greatly improved with floor to ceiling windows, and rear-view cameras and mirrors so that operators no longer need to crane around into awkward positions to see what is around the equipment.

Operators of vibratory hand tools and equipment also experience MSD, with symptoms that include pain in the fingers and wrists; tingling sensation in the hands or fingers; swelling, inflammation and stiffness in the joints; and muscle cramps and tightness.

Some ergonomic injuries are preventable. For heavy equipment operators, take a few minutes out of each hour to climb out of the cab and stretch your back, arms and legs. This will increase blood flow to your muscles and reduce the tension and fatigue caused by vibrations and from being in a stationary position for an extended period of time.

Operators of vibratory tools should also take rest periods where they flex their fingers and wrists to keep them supple and to stimulate blood flow. This will help reduce stiffness and help prevent future MSD problems.

Neff Rental’s late model earthmoving and material handling equipment by leading brand manufacturers offers leading-edge ergonomic operator environments. For more information about Neff Rental equipment, call 888-709-NEFF, or visit

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