Implementing Ergonomics 101
We’ve all heard the adage, “you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole.” You can certainly try, but the effort won’t be worth the outcome. Applying that concept to the workplace is equally fitting (or ill-fitting). Businesses often place workers in positions that are physically a poor match. Instead of tailoring the job or work environment to the worker, many companies expect the worker to fit the job. Almost immediately, it becomes apparent that hazards and injuries lay on the horizon, which is why the study and implementation of ergonomics is critical to any successful business.
Ergonomics aims to fit the job task to the employee in order to improve overall comfort, boost productivity, and most importantly, reduce risk of injury. A strong ergonomics program is a great way to supplement an existing health and safety program: taking employee safety to the next step!
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) breaks the fundamentals of launching an ergonomics program down into 7 easy to follow steps1!
1. Identify YOUR Risk Factors
Understanding the specific ergonomic risk factors that your facility is susceptible to is critical when implementing ergonomic solutions. To identify these risks, it is important to:
- Consider the history of work-related musculoskeletal injuries sustained by your employees to date.
- Identify the nature of the injuries as this is a great indicator of which ergonomic risks are at plat.
- Remember: the main ergonomic risk factors are force, posture, and repetition.
However, it’s important to remember that ergonomic hazards can also include contact stress, vibration, inadequate rest time, poor lighting conditions, exposure to noise, and extreme temperatures in the workplace.
2. Involve and Train
This step may be one of the most important steps when it comes to the success of your ergonomics program. Involving your employees, at all levels, is imperative. Not only does this step improve workplace morale, but it incorporates all types of ideas brought forward by those who know the job tasks best. Training all employees to recognize and respond to ergonomic risks allows for an immediate enhancement to the safety culture within the workplace.
3. Collect Evidence
Once the risk factors have been identified and the workforce has been involved, the next step is to gather data on the job tasks that cause undue physical stress and discomfort. Gathering data and performing risk assessments allows for the implementation of ergonomic solutions where they are most notably needed.
4. Implement your Program
Determining what level of control is required in each situation is next. There are five levels of control:
- Elimination of the hazard
- Substitution of the hazard
- Implementation of engineering controls (i.e.. mechanical assist devices)
- Administrative controls like job rotation
- Personal protective equipment which protects employees from immediate hazards and is often used when the job task cannot be modified.
- For example, mobile employees such as construction workers spend 8-10 hours on their feet each day. This is the nature of the job, and these tasks cannot be modified in a way that relieves the pressure on the lower extremities and spine. However, personal protective equipment such as MEGAComfort’s dual-layer memory foam anti-fatigue insoles can redistribute the shock, prevent awkward posture of the spine, and increase blood flow, allowing for a much more comfortable day on site.
Ergonomics is never a “one and done” process, but instead it is a working process that requires continuous evaluation and improvement. Performing job analyses, studying injury rates and absenteeism, speaking to employees, and following up on productivity indicators are all clues as to the success of your ergonomic program.
6. Promote Employee Recovery
When work-related musculoskeletal injuries do occur, employee recovery is a crucial step in maintaining quality of life and employee morale. A strong return-to-work program is one that promotes modified jobs, restricted duties, or temporary job transfers to accommodate the recovering employee. Additionally, continuous contact with the recovering employee allows them to remain involved in their treatment and return-to-work, while simultaneously improving employee well-being following the injury.
7. Maintain Commitment and Involvement
The management team is responsible for encouraging employee input on ergonomic hazards, solutions, and implementation strategies. Continued commitment from the management team ensures long lasting, enthusiastic involvement from the employees.
Ergonomics is a multidisciplinary science, requiring input from all types of employees:
- Worker representatives
- Health and safety personnel
- Human resources
- Purchasing department representatives
- Maintenance employees
Active commitment and engagement from management representatives will foster a positive program environment. The best way to lead is by example, which includes creating an uplifting and communicative workplace. This type of atmosphere will allow employee representatives to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts for facility wide ergonomic improvements.
There are many ways to launch and implement an ergonomics program, following these guidelines is one way to successfully implement an employee-based ergonomics program in your facility. The key takeaway is employee engagement, the more engaged your employees are the better your solutions will be. Additionally, employee involvement in the workplace fosters a sense of community, positive spirit, safety, and in turn improves productivity!