Creative Problem-Solving Techniques Needed to Address Ergonomic Issues
Philip Jacobs, president of Jacobs Consulting Ltd. in St. Paul, Minn., said that traditional health and safety situations are governed by workplace rules. Ergonomics, however, doesn't work the same way, he said.
"In workplace safety, it is clear that if you violate a rule, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will come in, and you could be cited or fined," Jacobs said. "It is very focused on rules and compliance. However, in ergonomics, you are dealing with the fundamental issue that employees and workstations are different. A simple cookie-cutter approach won't apply."
Jacobs said that although many companies are selling products and solutions that are "ergonomically-correct," employers must realize that it will take a more creative approach to address their musculoskeletal problems.
"?Ergonomics' has become a term used by marketing people, but employers need to have choices for their unique workplace situations," he said. "You simply can't go to an office supply store and buy a solution."
To generate creative solutions, Jacobs said employers should:
- Identify the problem. The first step, he said, is to conduct a thorough analysis of the workplace.
"You need to identify the problem, so that you can determine what you need to do," Jacobs said. "Perform a good job analysis."
- Be open to new ideas. Jacobs said it is crucial that the employer and top management are on board and open to new ideas and a different way of thinking.
- Get employees involved. The more that employees are involved in the various facets of your program, the more they will learn about ergonomics, what is causing injuries at their site, and how they can avoid being injured. The more awareness they have of the situation, the more valuable they will be to the creative brainstorming process.
- Generate ideas. To come up with potential solutions to your problem, employers need to get people brainstorming. Jacobs recommended including a variety of company personnel in the brainstorming group.
"A range of people should be involved," he said. "They should be open to thinking differently about the situation. Don't forget to include people who don't have firsthand experience with the problem. The role of the outsider can be important. Think out of the box."
Jacobs said one way to encourage creative thinking is to ask the group what they would do if they could start over with a clean slate. Ask them how they would address the issue or design problem differently.
"Money is not always a constraint to coming up with a solution," he said. "It is often a failure of looking for ideas and the fear of sounding silly in front of others. You need to approach this creative thinking with a childlike innocence."
February 2, 2009
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