By JOSHUA CLIFTON,
editor of CTDNews, the LRP newsletter in which this article first appeared
Making adjustments to protect your employees from musculoskeletal disorders need not be costly, difficult or frustrating. According to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, there are a number simple strategies that you can implement at your workplace to strengthen or enhance an ergonomics program.
The department said employers can put a halt to rising injury claims and improve their programs by using the following 10 recommendations:
1. Educate and involve employees. Employees are the real experts when it comes to their jobs, and are often the best source for pointing out musculoskeletal disorders risks and hazards. Chances are, they have a solution to offer as well. Educating employees on ergonomics helps them feel more comfortable with offering suggestions and increases buy-in.
There are numerous ways to get employees involved. For example, encourage workers to participate on join labor-management committees and other advisory groups. You can also have employees participate in job hazard inspections or seek their input in developing training programs and revising safety rules.
2. Take a look at all of the available data to find problems. Use your workers' compensation claims data, OSHA 200 logs, safety committee meetings, absenteeism and turnover records, employee suggestions and any other data you have available to identify where the biggest problems are.
3. Encourage early reporting. If employees feel comfortable about coming forward with symptoms of injury early on, you have an opportunity to take care of the problem before it results in a workers' comp claim. The net result is less pain and suffering for the employee and considerable cost savings for the employer.
4. Find quick fixes to get momentum going. According to the DL&I, it is crucial not to get caught up in "analysis paralysis." It's easy with ergonomics to start looking at every little task and movement. However, sometimes there are simple solutions that could be implemented quickly with little analysis, like raising a computer or lowering a countertop. Putting these solutions into place will generate enthusiasm by demonstrating to employees, supervisors and management how effective and simple ergonomics can be.
5. Carefully analyze complex problems. Some problems are more complex than others. For some work environment issues, a careful analysis is in order. By keeping your options open at this stage, you often can find alternative solutions to the problem that you would have missed if you had moved too quickly.
6. Focus on eliminating the risk factors. Too often, employers focus only on solutions such as training employees or rotating them in and out of hazardous jobs as a fix. Training in proper work practices is an important part of ergonomics and should accompany any new equipment or procedures that are implemented. Changes to work practices and equipment often can eliminate or substantially reduce the risk factors for injury. These can be as simple as bending the knees when picking something up or adjusting a keyboard.
7. Don't just throw money at the problem. Purchasing equipment is often a very good solution to an ergonomics problem. However, changing the way something is done, rather than replacing equipment, is often the most effective way to prevent injury.
A key element to making ergonomic changes last in the long run is providing employees and management with comprehensive, ongoing training. Training should not only target employees and their supervisors, but a specific focus should be placed on new hires, contract workers, employees who wear personal protective equipment and workers in high risk areas. Training for managers should emphasize the importance of their role in visibly supporting the safety and health program and setting a good example.
8. Make ergonomics part of purchasing. Take advantage of opportunities to make equipment changes during the planning stages of new work processes or when building new facilities. In addition, make sure that any old equipment that wears out is replaced with ergonomically designed devices.
9. Expect results, but be patient. Don't be discouraged if results are not immediate. The important thing is to consider all of the benefits--greater productive, higher morale, etc.--when calculating your return, not just reduced claims costs.
10. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Ergonomics isn't rocket science. Although most problems can be solved using in-house expertise, there will always be a few issues that will be easier to solve with a little help from someone with more experience. Contact state or federal occupational safety and health representatives, ergonomics consultants or your insurance provider for more help.
For more information, visit the Washington DL&I Web site at www.lni.wa.gov.
October 15, 2008
Copyright 2008© LRP Publications