Employers worldwide are concerned for the safety and well-being of their employees. Unfortunately, most workplace ergonomics solutions are put into place too late – after employees have sustained workplace injuries. Organizations should be focusing on a proactive approach to combating workplace injuries vs. the reactive approach of trying to solve the problem after the fact.
A recent study, The Proactive Approach—Is It Worthwhile? A Prospective Controlled Ergonomic Intervention Study in Office Workers, led by Jasminka Goldoni Laestadius, M.D., Ph.D., of The World Bank’s Joint Bank/Fund Health Services Department reports findings that clearly demonstrate that proactive, customized ergonomic assessment and intervention make a significant difference in reducing employees’ musculoskeletal pain:
The major finding of this study is that, compared with the control group, significant decrease in the frequency of musculoskeletal pain and eye symptoms was confirmed for the two intervention groups. However, after adjustment for confounders, only Intervention group 1 (having new furniture, educational material, and an individual workstation set up by an ergonomist) reported significant improvement from most musculoskeletal pain symptoms, whereas Intervention group 2 (having new furniture, educational material, but no individual workstation set-up) did not retain significance.
In addition to protecting workers from injury, the benefits of implementing an ergonomics program can be fiscally significant for the organization. As reported by Ergonomics Plus, a recent ergonomics case study featured a facility which experienced dramatic results:
- A 78% reduction in worker’s compensation costs
- A 15% increase in productivity
- Improved safety culture and employee morale
So, what does it take to implement proactive ergonomics and experience the benefits?
What is the Difference? Proactive vs. Reactive Ergonomics
Reactive ergonomics is an important part of implementing ergonomic change in response to an injury. However, there are a few issues with relying solely on reactive ergonomics. As mentioned, it means waiting for an injury to occur, which is obviously not ideal. Generally, reactive ergonomics does not have the budget, timeline or leadership support to implement the best solution, which means that although the risk has been assessed and a solution has been implemented, the improvement is marginal.
Proactive ergonomics is researched and implemented before a specific injury occurs. It is part of a continuous improvement process that is spearheaded by the leadership of the organization. This means that it is driven by strategic initiatives and organizational goals and has the funding to properly support the best possible ergonomic solutions for the betterment of the employees and the organization as a whole. In turn, the results are substantial to the organization in both reduction in workplace injuries and related costs to the company.
How to Implement a Proactive Ergonomics Process
Ergonomics Plus has documented an excellent ergonomics process for organizations wishing to take the first step towards proactive ergonomics:
- Step 1: Prioritize Jobs for Ergonomic Analysis
- Step 2: Conduct Ergonomic Analysis
- Step 3: Develop an Ergonomic Opportunity List
- Step 4: Determine Best Solution with Team Approach
- Step 5: Obtain Final Approval and Implement Solution
- Step 6: Evaluate the Ergonomic Improvement for Effectiveness
In stepping through this process, it is important to consider all areas of the business – from office workers to field technicians to workers on the shop floor. It is also imperative to consider and analyze all aspects of jobs and tasks to determine where changes are most crucial and impactful. Some areas of concern are pushing/pulling loads (can be assessed using Liberty Mutual Research) and noise pollution on manufacturing plant floors (can be assessed using CCOHS regulations).
Another important thing to consider is the design of processes, products and tools employees use in their day-to-day tasks. Poor design is a major contributing factor to risk of workplace injury.
Often overlooked is the design of carts that employees push and pull to transport heavy loads. Our material handling tips blog talks about what areas of push/pull task assessment should be considered for ergonomic improvements. For example, choices of caster wheel material and diameter are critical to ensure push/pull forces are reduced to support the reduction of risk of workplace injuries.
Proactive Ergonomics to Support Continuous Improvement and Employee Safety
Workplace ergonomics needs to be a priority for organizations long before an injury takes place. It is the support and implementation of proactive ergonomics that will provide the largest positive impact which will demonstrate the organization’s dedication to its employees and continuous improvement.
For a thorough overview of workplace ergonomics and push/pull tasks, download the Guide to Workplace Ergonomics.