How do proper ergonomics benefit workers—and an organization as a whole? “The key word in ‘proper ergonomics’ is PROPER,” says Mark Giordano. “Ergonomics, when implemented properly, eliminates the unnecessary steps in a production process. Thus, ergonomics will increase productive time and decrease labor and ‘waste’ costs,” adds Giordano, retired Senior Ergonomics Consultant for the Division of Safety and Hygiene, for the State of Ohio – Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene provides a variety of programs, services, and resources to help employers create a safe and healthy workplace. For more than 34 years, Giordano has been helping employers create and maintain a healthy, productive and competitive workforce by preventing occupational accidents, injuries, and illnesses.
The result: fewer accidents, lower workers’ comp costs, and more productive and engaged employees.
We recently spoke with Giordano about the importance of ergonomics, and in our conversation, he shared some of the top trends safety leaders can continue to watch related to workplace ergonomics. He also shed light on the top mistakes to avoid when implementing ergonomics solutions. Here are the highlights from our conversation.
The Proven Benefits of Proper Ergonomics in the Workplace
Is investing in ergonomics worth the investment?
The answer is yes, says Giordano. When properly implemented, ergonomics benefits a company’s production and quality of product or service. Just as important, properly implemented ergonomics solutions help to reduce injury risks.
Giordano explains that proper ergonomics can also have major financial benefits for companies. “Financial benefits can be measured in reduced cycle times, shorter customer service and work performance cycles, reduced absenteeism, and lower injury costs,” he explains.
Other benefits are not cited as often as the financial benefits, but are also powerful. Best-in-class organizations implement ergonomics programs to drive employee engagement, reduce turnover, and to help support and show commitment to a safe and healthy culture.
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…Then Where Do Companies Make Mistakes with Ergonomics?
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Knowing the value of ergonomics, what should employers consider when creating and maintaining an ergonomics program?
Giordano says there are too many cases where companies will either implement an inappropriate ergonomics solution, or fail to fully implement a solution. The most common occurrences of improper ergonomics solutions that fail to provide the desired financial benefits are those solutions that don’t apply to how employees perform on the job.
To avoid this common mistake made by employers, Giordano says be sure to turn to your employees—the “daily experts”—whenever creating a solution that they’ll be implementing.
“The biggest failures associated with not fully implementing a solution are not training the employees on the proper use of the new intervention and not following up to make corrections or measure the benefits.”
If you involve the employees you are looking to benefit in this process, it gives them greater control over their work. In addition, it gives these employees a sense of ownership, providing both stress reduction and positive morale benefits, adds Giordano. After all, as an employer, you’re showing employees you care about taking steps to improve their work environment.
“Employees who feel they are part of the new solution will be more committed to using the new intervention, and they will be more supportive of work process changes. Finally, promoting this type of employee involvement demonstrates that management is interested in their employees’ intellect and opinions, versus telling them to ‘clock in and leave your brain at the door.’”
Steps to Take to Ensure Your Ergonomics Risks Are Reduced
Employers can take several steps to minimize and/or prevent ergonomics-related risks at your facility or work environment.
One key step for safety leaders to take is to make sure production leaders (such as engineers, production managers, etc.) are educated and trained on how to identify ergonomic risk factors. “When designing a process or new product line, they should know what the risk factors could be in their designs and have the opportunity to search for alternatives.”
Another important factor is to implement ergonomics adjustments at the beginning of the design stage any time there are new facilities being constructed, projects, products, equipment or processes. This will cost less to incorporate effective solutions in most environments, says Giordano. “The safety leaders can also build strong ergonomic teams, involving both employees and management to identify the existing ergonomic injury risk factors and guide sub-teams in developing solutions,” he adds.
For companies that are just starting to take steps to incorporate ergonomics into business practices, the first step is to identify their current ergonomic challenges. Those could include repetitive tasks, setups that could cause deficient postures or forceful exertions, three of the major types of the injury risk factors—and commonly a combination of the three.
Once tasks and activities are identified as having injury risk factors, conduct more formal risk assessments on those jobs, prioritize by risk severity and find solutions to improve the work environment. For example, in an office environment, improvements could include easily-adjustable desks and chairs, and training for workers on how to properly position them for their use.
Changing Trends in Workplace Ergonomics
Ergonomics program management has come a long way (in particular over the last three decades), and more and more companies are seeing the value in being proactive. Especially with aging workforces, companies see value shifting ownership to workers to maximize value.
Right now, most industries are making improvements to the working environment for employees because they recognize many of the benefits of proper ergonomics to their bottom line. “With the tight margins in the current economy, quality is also a key factor to maintaining market share,” adds Giordano.
In addition, one of the fastest growing trends right now is the implementation of ergonomic solutions in the construction industry specifically. Examples include improved scheduling and height-adjustable scaffolds, which eliminate manual material handling and reduce job times; and support equipment that eliminates excessive static forceful exertion, and it also allows the operator to expertly direct heavy tools (e.g. impact tools and jack hammers).
“Additionally, medical service delivery is a growing field for ergonomic improvements, including: fully implemented ‘no manual lift’ programs; improved design of patient rooms in hospitals; and, improved data entry stations and methods for caregivers in hospital settings.,” shares Giordano.
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