Successful Approaches to Introducing Ergonomics in the Workplace

“Ergonomics” is the safety and health buzzword in 21st century workplaces. In its broadest sense, ergonomics involves the interaction of the worker with the work. Given that ergonomics focuses on workers and their work environment, it makes sense that introducing ergonomics into a workplace is most successful when workers are involved in the process.

Participatory Ergonomics

Photo: Applied Ergonomics

Participatory Ergonomics

The Ontario Safety and Health Association for Community and Health (OSACH) encourages a participatory approach that actively involves the people directly affected by the ergonomic hazards, that is, the workers. Too often organizations turn ergonomics over to specialists and leave workers out of the process. According to OSACH, the success of an ergonomics programs depends on the level of involvement of workers.

Workers typically know more about the hazards of their work and how to reduce those hazards than do ergonomics specialists. Participatory ergonomics (PE) uses the knowledge and experience of workers to reduce ergonomic hazards. “In this manner, PE is used to engage and empower not only workers but also managers, supervisors and health and safety personnel to make decisions and solve problems as a team, effectively taking charge of injury prevention.”1

PE takes a six-step approach to reducing ergonomic hazards:

  1. Ensure management support and resources.
  2. Involve the right people (workers, supervisor, etc.).
  3. Define participant responsibilities (hazard identification, solution implementation, etc.).
  4. Provide the necessary training in ergonomics.
  5. Identify an individual to champion the PE process.
  6. Use group consultation to make decisions.

Putting Theory into Practice at The Baltimore Sun

Without calling it participatory ergonomics, officials at The Baltimore Sun took a participatory approach when it decided to upgrade its furniture and equipment.  Their first step in the right direction was to listen to editors who complained about uncomfortable and outdated furniture.

The purchasing manager took the complaints seriously, saying:

“I wasn’t going to get anything without making sure people liked it first. Comfort is a very personal issue, and it’s one you need to think long and hard about before making an investment. You can’t just go into the local Office Max and buy the first things you see. [The process] takes energy, effort, and time.”2

This is what the purchasing agent did:

  1. Selected random employees from every department to try new equipment.
  2. Purchased equipment for the selected employees to try; first chairs, then keyboard trays, then desks.
  3. Purchased equipment based on the recommendations of the testers.

Hazard Prevention and Control at L.L. Bean

As L.L. Bean introduced ergonomics into its operations, it became part of the job, on par with productivity and quality.  When hazards were found, controls were devised and implemented. For example, recognizing that incorrect workstation height leads to discomfort and injury, the company installed adjustable workstations that allowed workers to comfortably sit or stand. 3 Standing desks have become increasingly popular in the call centers; the company responded by supplying more of the sit-stand desks.4

OSHA and Ergonomics

In its guidelines for developing ergonomics programs, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) puts management commitment and employee involvement right at the top.

“Employee involvement and feedback through clearly established procedures are…essential, both to identify existing and potential hazards and to develop and implement an effective way to abate such hazards.”5

 

References

  1. Ontario Safety Association for Community and Health. Morgan, Derek. “Participatory Ergonomics: Introducing the OSACH Ergonomic c Program Implementation Continuum (EPIC) Program.” Ontario Safety Association for Community & Healthcare. April 2009.
  2. Villano, Matt. “Introducing Ergonomics at The Baltimore Sun”. November 6, 1999.
  3. Rooney, E.F. and Morency, R.R. “Implementing Ergonomics with Total Quality Management”.
  4. Private interview. May 2012.
  5. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Program Management Guidelines for Meatpacking Plants”.

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