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Essential Elements of an Effective Office Ergonomics Process

August 24, 2007

A successful ergonomics process can be defined as one that is sustainable, business-driven, and injury-reducing. The formula for success can be classified as a “top-down support with bottom-up involvement” model, which advocates the combination of elements from a traditional ergonomics program coupled with employee involvement at several levels. Three critical elements have been identified as essential to the success of the process, including:

  • The office ergonomics process is driven by risk reduction strategies. A proactive approach to ergonomics means that factors known to contribute to injury or illness are consistently identified and addressed early. Responding to risk, not just responding to consequences like injury and illness is an essential part of effective risk management.
  • The ergonomics process leverages known solutions through office design standards and workstation design templates. Because of the proactive design approach, this element is known as "fix once, repeat many" or FORM.
  • Adopting a "30-inch view" of people and performance can lead to dramatic reductions in injury rates and significant gains in profitability, while creating a culture of respectful employee engagement.

The Truth About Pain and Fatigue

Pain and fatigue are a daily burden for many in the work force. With good ergonomics, you can systematically decrease the amount of pain and fatigue that people experience at work. Pain is a barrier to pride in workmanship and it reduces the willingness to communicate. Workers in pain are unable to focus their attention on finding and acting on opportunities for improvement. Healthy people perform better than people who are sick and tired.

Typically, up to one-half of office workers and well more than half of all production workers routinely experience job-related discomfort. One workplace study conducted by CTD News of more than 13,000 office workers found that 16 percent reported being in extreme pain at the end of the work day. When it comes to physically strenuous jobs on the production floor, the numbers are even more worrisome.

Pain and fatigue are natural outcomes of jobs that are designed outside known human limits (reach distances, applied forces, manual handling requirements, etc.). Workplace ergonomics strives to fit the job to the worker – both “built in” through the application of ergonomics design guidelines and “bolt on” through ergonomics risk identification and reduction.

In the short term, anyone who is distracted by pain simply cannot focus on improving anything except reducing the pain. In the longer term, pain from soft tissue damage (such as when poor ergonomics contributes to work-related musculoskeletal disorders) is accompanied by the release of cytokines in the blood stream. Cytokines are a known contributor to depression and malaise.

When employees are so distracted by pain that they cannot focus on their jobs, they often suffer from the modern malaise of “on-site absenteeism”; workers don’t have to be home to be absent.

As more jobs are created in the service sector and the manufacturing sector veers from manual, high-volume production jobs, on-site absenteeism and the associated discretionary productivity become a huge financial sink hole. Effectively, the profit a company makes will be dwarfed by the amount of productivity that is at the discretion of its work force. A company may measure the wounded and maimed on its OSHA log, but we must not forget that pain and the cytokines also are measured on the bottom line.

Essential Element #1 – Adapt a Proactive Risk Management Strategy

Observation is the most basic form of assessment. Many ergonomic risks factors can be easily identified and solutions implemented at the office occupant level using observational tools. This is the low-tech approach to ergonomics. The goal is to capture existing insight and information from the work force, and then quickly move to resolving problems. To take advantage of this simple approach to risk assessment, Humantech recommends that companies develop a process for employees to identify known challenges and provide suggestions through a simple on-line assessment and e-learning process.

Efficient office ergonomics assessment tools help companies obtain information needed to make decisions with as little effort as possible. The most effective office ergonomics assessment tools highlight your priority situations and provide consistent quantitative data for identifying and prioritizing ergonomic risks.

It is not just about assessments; it’s also about the corrective actions to be completed to minimize the identified risk. The most useful tools should also identify alternative job improvements and suggest no-capital options when applicable. The process must be simple enough to be used reliably by all staff and at the same time it should provide sufficient information to be useful.

To address this, Humantech recommends a structured risk factor survey called ergoTool version 5.0 (http://ergo5.humantech.com/demo/index.do) that incorporates a customized office needs questionnaire in order to prioritize and educate personnel on office ergonomics issues. This assessment identifies easy-to-implement solutions and recommends available equipment options. In fact, occupants using the ergoTool software are able to address many ergonomic challenges in the office by simply adjusting or arranging their existing equipment.

The ergoTool V5.0 survey examines the most critical ergonomics components in the office environment and captures quantifiable ergonomic data along with job information, task breakdowns, and employee discomfort.

The employee survey addresses these seven (7) areas:

  • Workstation Layout
  • Keyboard/Input Device Support
  • Seating
  • Computer Equipment
  • Lighting
  • Work Environment
  • Special Considerations

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