Monday, October 01, 2012

Five Changing Trends in Managing Workplace Ergonomics

Occupational Health and Safety by Walt Rostykus 1 October 2012

Traditionally, safety professionals have driven ergonomic improvements in an effort to reduce injuries, but all along they have been the wrong people to do this.

Occupational ergonomics continues to emerge as one of the priority workplace issues addressed by employers today. This is driven primarily by the need to reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). In our recent benchmarking study, we found that participants attributed between 24 and 75 percent of injuries to poor ergonomic conditions. This rate has remained relatively consistent over the past several studies. Most companies attribute the high incidence of MSDs to:
  • Reduction of other types of injuries. As a result of programs focused on reducing and eliminating mechanical, electrical, and chemical hazards, MSDs are emerging as a priority issue.
  • Increased work demand on individual employees. This is typically attributed to workforce downsizing, production rate changes, cost constraints, and "doing more with less."
  • Aging workforce. Some companies attribute their MSDs to the capabilities, conditioning, and condition of both older and younger workers.
The five trends are as follows

1. Getting Proactive - using quantitative tools to measure exposure to MSD risk factors and then focus their efforts on changing the job conditions to reduce the level of exposure—before an injury occurs.
2. Integrating the Process - managing ergonomics as a process that is aligned with, or integrated into, existing improvement processes (e.g. Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, Continuous Improvement, and Safety Management Systems). This engages people across an organization, ensures that the processes are sustainable as time, leaders, and business needs change, integrates the processes into the business and ensures that they are not dependent upon a few people, and provides a logical system for determining and driving improvement.
3. Engaging Others and Shifting Ownership -Successful organizations expand ownership, involvement, and accountability for ergonomics to people outside the EHS staff.4. Moving Upstream - Consistently addressing ergonomics in the design phase of new processes, equipment, layouts, and products is a common practice of advanced organizations. About 5 percent of all organizations are at this level. The greatest value of good upstream design is the reduced cost of making changes. The cost of changing equipment and layout once it is in place is more than 1,000 times the cost of making the change in the design phase.
5. Addressing the Office - The biggest trend in managing office ergonomics has been the movement toward employee-driven assessments and workplace changes. By providing online training and self-assessments, employers are enabling and empowering individuals to take the first steps in adjusting their workstations to fit them.

In addition to these common trends, we’ve identified two common challenges with managing ergonomics that companies at all levels of program maturity have experienced.
1. Funding for training and engineering solutions
2. Failure to use or meet established ergonomic design standards.

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