What Employers Can Do to Improve Workplace Ergonomics
Labor can be harmful to our physical health when proper attention isn’t given to how the work is designed. Improper tools, limited mobility and other factors can lead to workers missing time from work due to soreness, fatigue and other health issues.
Workplace ergonomics is the practice of adapting the work to fit the worker in a way that reduces the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). When workers feel better physically, their performance tends to improve. A proactive workplace ergonomics strategy helps everyone. Employers get increased productivity and employees get improved working conditions.
To understand how companies can improve their approach to ergonomics we spoke with Regional Safety Manager Shannon Jones who has over 12 years of experience as an athletic trainer and over seven years of experience in occupational health. He highlighted three ways employers can better utilize ergonomics.
Identify the issues
Building an effective workplace ergonomics strategy starts by highlighting where improvements can be made. This includes investigating the environments that create the workplace and the workers themselves. Jones recommends that companies focus on the common tools and physical movements workers use to complete necessary tasks.
“Improving ergonomics can be as simple as changing the tools being used. Like converting from a pistol grip gun screwdriver to a cylindrical style. Removing the need to squeeze or activate a trigger can reduce occurrences of “trigger finger”, says Jones.
Reviewing the physical movements required of workers can help employers identify potential hazards. Are employees sitting in the same spot all day? Are they routinely lifting items above their head throughout their shift? These actions may not present an immediate health risk, but they can lead to a worker developing MSDs over time.
“Workers who have a static posture or use the same motion repeatedly for eight hours a day can start to experience health issues related to limited range of movement. Every so often, workers need to do something that increases the range,” says Jones.
There are ways to diversify a worker’s role without compromising on productivity. Job rotation — and other job enlargement practices — allow workers to perform different tasks that increase their range of motion. This creates a safer workplace by disrupting routine work that can become monotonous. It also helps to prevent injuries associated with repeated motions which reduces absenteeism.
Focus on implementation, training and assessment
To maximize the benefits of ergonomics, employers must focus on implementation once they’ve outlined the specific updates to their safety strategy.
Proper implementation of new practices involves assessing how the job is performed before and after the changes have been made. This ensures any unintended consequences can be identified and remedied.
A common result of implementing ergonomics in your workplace is that employees may state that the new way of doing something “feels different” or “not right”. This can often be attributed to employees using new tools that require an adjustment period. Explaining the benefits of the new procedures to your team during and after training can ease the transition.
“Even though you've set something up ergonomically, proper training is still of the utmost importance so that employees know all the tools and resources that they have available to them to do the job to the best of their ability and get that product out the door,” says Jones.
Update the workplace ergonomics strategy regularly
Proactive workplace ergonomics strategies can be updated based on new information. As updates are implemented and workers are educated on new procedures, employers may realize that they need to make further adjustments.
“The human body is very dynamic and there’s a fine line between having things too setup versus not setup enough,” says Jones.
Employers can look to their workers as an excellent source for measuring the effectiveness of their ergonomics strategy. Offering suggestion boxes or a hotline where reports of safety concerns can be submitted anonymously can help companies stay ahead of emerging issues. Employers can also meet with supervisors who may have valuable information on what issues are arising.
“Something as simple as a questionnaire that asks workers if/where their feeling sore or if they are experiencing fatigue can be an effective way to learn about health concerns,” says Jones.
Improving workplace ergonomics requires time and often a financial investment in new tools, equipment and procedures. However, a healthier workforce is more productive and more likely to not explore new job opportunities which improves business in the long-term.
“When people get injured, they're going to move on to something else. So, when companies improve ergonomics to make work a little simpler or less taxing improves the quality of the workforce and also reduces turnover,” says Jones.
If your company needs assistance in reviewing and updating their health and safety strategies, contact Aerotek today.