By JARED SHELLY, senior editor/web editor of Risk & Insurance®
Let's face it, ergonomics gets a bad rap. To the casual observer, it's nothing more than the study of sitting up straight in your office chair. But in actuality, focusing on ergonomics can help organizations of all types prevent injury and save serious workers' comp and disability dollars.
Sure, if a person sits at a desk for eight hours per day and types repetitively, they have a better chance of developing carpel tunnel syndrome or other injuries. But in industrial settings like factories or warehouses, other types of repetitive or strenuous movements can cause serious injury.
But before providing employees with new information and fancy equipment, there must be a baseline of interest and energy, said consultant Michael Melnik, president of Prevention Plus, who delivered a keynote address at the National Ergonomics Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas last week.
"It's not focusing on right chair, the right monitor, the right distance or the right amount of repetitions," said Melnik. "We need a fertile ground for that to take hold. With an infertile ground, it will not work."
And they're certainly not trying to give up a chair they've had for years.
"This is my chair. This is Betsy. I've been sitting on her for 23 years," said Melnik.
While new equipment is nice, companies first need to change their corporate cultures.
"Going from a chair with four knobs that nobody's using to a chair with eight knobs that nobody's using won't get you anywhere," said Melnik. "The chairs are great, but it's a people problem."
While an ergonomics program can help people in a variety of ways, there are plenty of barriers. Management will be concerned about the cost. Supervisors will wonder if they'll have to "babysit" employees while they work. And workers will think that their employer is making them do something extra.
Even if an ergonomics program is introduced to the company by an energized health-and-safety risk manager, the employees seem to have one question: is it mandatory? But just telling an employee that a stretching program is mandatory doesn't mean they're going to actually do it.
A stretching program can certainly cut down on injuries but managers and employees alike may initially think it'll take too much time, cost too much money, be too embarrassing and create too much additional work.
But they'd certainly agree that it's a good idea for people to warm-up before performing strenuous activity. So when doing training sessions with companies, Melnik tells them to blink. If you just remember to blink once in a while, your eyes will be able to be opened and relaxed all day long.
"Once in a while, do a blink for your shoulder," he said while pulling his hands in front of his body to stretch his shoulders.
"Once in a while do a blink for your back," he said while stretching his back.
Health and safety professionals leading an ergo program at a company should make sure they aren't trying a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, people always say "lift with your knees" but that certainly won't work for many older workers.
"Hey baby boomers, how are your knees doing?" said Melnik.
While ergonomics can save money, reduce waste, increase productivity and eliminate injuries, employees won't participate unless a risk manager can answer one question: what's in it for me?
Melnik said that ergonomics "serves as a way of telling employees 'you matter! We want you comfortable and productive."
Get Comfy at the Ergo Expo Floor
Anti-fatigue mats, sit/stand office desks, chairs that flex in all directions and even a two handled trash bag were some of the highlights of the expo floor at the ErgoExpo.
With his curly blond hair sitting under a Kelly Slater baseball cap, Tara Saville looks more like a surfer than a mechanical engineer. But he may have helped create a revolution in trash bags along with partner Mark Sale. Their Kailua-Kona, Hawaii-based company, B3 Plastics, developed a trash bag with excess on the bottom as well as on top. People can then turn the bag sideways and carry it with two hands. A simple design, but one that could make all the to a healthcare worker carrying heavy linens or construction workers lugging soggy, heavy industrial trash.
The folks from Lifespan Fitness showed off treadmill desks, which are workstations at standing height with treadmills underneath. An employee can set the treadmill to a low rhythm and walk all day rather than being sedentary. Studies suggest that sitting for long periods of time is hazardous to your health -- even if you exercise later in the day.
Wellnomics, from New Zealand, showed off software that reminds office workers to take some time out of their day to stretch. The program has been used by Chevron and other large companies, according to Wellnomics.
Another vendor, AlignMed showcased a clothing line that actually keeps your body in correct posture. The T-shirt, for example, fits tight to the body, much like Under Armour active wear. But the AlignMed shirt has fibers and a design that moves the shoulders back, the butt in and keeps posture perfect while it's worn. It could be something that could reduce injury in warehouse or factory workers.
December 11, 2012
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