Ergonomics in the Workplace

What is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the science of designing or adjusting work to optimize the efficiency and safety of a process, product, or system. It is also known as human factors engineering because it focuses on optimizing the interface between people and work system elements, to enhance human well-being and performance. The goal is to “fit the work to the worker”.

Ergonomics is most effective when applied at the beginning of the design process. However, ergonomics is typically brought in after operations have already begun and problems have crept up. While not as cost-efficient, it can be used to reduce injuries and enhance productivity of existing work systems, whether that system is located in an office, field, or industrial environment.

Ergonomics is Science.

Do You Need an Ergonomics Program?

Ergonomics is more than just preventing injuries. Ergonomics has a role to play in how work is done. How many of the following ergonomics need indicators does your organization have?

  • High injury rates
  • High absenteeism or turnover
  • Excessive or constant rework
  • Frequent overtime
  • Incidents attributed to human error
  • Workers modifying equipment or workstations
  • Worker complaints about the same job task
  • Work demands excluding certain groups (women, older workers)
  • Production bottlenecks
  • Long training times

How do I implement Ergonomics into the workplace?

Developing and implementing an Ergonomics Program is similar to a safety program. Implementing ergonomics in the workplace involves a systematic approach to identifying ergonomics-related hazards, assessing risks, and implementing controls to optimize the work environment for the well-being and performance of employees. 

Why is Ergonomics important?

Implementing an Ergonomics program has numerous benefits for any business. This includes:

Increased Efficiency:

Ergonomic workspaces are designed to improve efficiency by effectively managing workflow, workloads, work schedules and available resources (time, money, people). The result is less errors, less rework, less turnover and less overtime. This also has a direct effect on front-line supervisors who are often burdened with reduced resources, break up of trained crews, unplanned downtime and missed deadlines.

Reduced absenteeism/presenteeism:

Incorporating ergonomic design principles that reduce physical, cognitive, and emotional demands have a direct effect on preventing musculoskeletal injuries and the promotion of psychological health. It also ensures that employees are more apt to qualify as “fit for work”, because the work has been designed to “fit the worker”. This translates into less unplanned absences and fewer workers who are present but not fully engaged in their work due to fatigue, stress, or under-stimulation.

Cost Savings:

While initial investments may be required to implement ergonomic improvements, the long-term cost savings can be significant. Fewer workplace injuries mean lower healthcare costs, reduced workers' compensation claims and decreased expenses associated with absenteeism and turnover.

Enhanced Quality of Work:

When employees are comfortable and free from physical or psychological discomfort, they can focus better on their tasks, leading to enhanced teamwork, better decision-making and improvements in accuracy and quality of work.

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Compliance and Legal Protection:

Adhering to ergonomic principles helps companies comply with workplace health and safety regulations, reducing the risk of fines and legal liabilities associated with injuries or ergonomic-related issues.

In summary, integrating ergonomic principles into the workplace not only benefits employees by creating safer and more comfortable environments but also yields tangible benefits for companies in terms of efficiency, cost savings, employee morale and legal compliance.

Where do I start?

Employee Involvement:

The best place to start is to talk with the employees and find out where the job concerns are. Changing or modifying jobs without employee involvement can do more harm than good. Focus groups, interviews and discomfort surveys are great ways to gather valuable insights into work demands and the identification of hazards affecting these stakeholders. Employees should be engaged through every step of the risk assessment process including the identification of potential controls. Promote ongoing channels of communication that encourage them to report discomfort or ergonomic issues they encounter.

Conduct Ergonomic Assessment:

Assess current workplace conditions to identify for the presence of ergonomic hazards. This may involve observing work processes, interviewing supervisors and other key stakeholders, and using ergonomic assessment tools or checklists. Pay close attention to tasks and workstations that are known to or may contribute to injuries or ill health.

Identify Ergonomic Hazards:

A certified Ergonomist can also be brought in to assess work conditions. Identify common ergonomic hazards such as:

Physical Hazards

  • Awkward or sustained postures
  • Repetitive motions
  • Forceful exertions
  • Hand-arm vibration exposures
  • Whole body vibration exposures

Organizational Hazards

  • Insufficient resources (lack of/inadequate furnishings, tools or equipment)
  • Fatigue promoting schedule designs
  • Insufficient training in tasks and procedures
  • Poor communication structures Poor work organization (workflow, layout)
  • Unrealistic workloads

Prioritize Areas for Improvement:

Review the ergonomic assessment findings with all key stakeholders and together, prioritize areas or tasks that pose the highest risk of injury or discomfort. Focus on interventions that will have the most significant impact on employee well-being and productivity.

Implement Ergonomic Controls:

Controls should be tailored to reduce risk exposure. This may include adjusting workstation layout and equipment, providing ergonomic tools and accessories, and/or modifying work processes or procedures.

Provide Training and Education:

Train employees on ergonomic principles, proper workstation setup and safe work practices. Offer guidance on manual handling techniques, posture awareness and microbreak activities to help employees prevent injuries and minimize discomfort.

Encourage Breaks and Movement:

Encourage employees to take regular breaks to promote recovery, especially for tasks that involve sustained postures (get up and move) or highly repetitive motions (take a break).

Monitor and Adjust:

Regularly monitor the effectiveness of ergonomic interventions and solicit feedback from employees. Update standard operating procedures that may have been affected. Additional adjustments may be necessary based on employee feedback, impacts up or downstream, changes in work processes, equipment, or workforce demographics.

Regular Review and Improvement:

Continuously review and improve the ergonomic program based on feedback, new research and evolving workplace needs. Regularly revisit ergonomic assessments and adjust as necessary to ensure ongoing effectiveness.

Conclusion:

Once identified, if there is a quick and easy way to eliminate the hazard, and all affected stakeholders agree, do it. Avoid analysis paralysis. However, if it requires a thorough risk analysis, use scientifically validated tools to determine the degree of risk attached to the hazard. By following these steps and integrating ergonomic principles into the workplace culture, you can create a safer, more comfortable and efficient work environment for your employees.

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