Training, education lay foundation for successful ergonomics programs
But how many people would think education and training?
According to the recent ErgoExpo webinar How to Build a Successful Ergonomics Program, no piece of technology or new device can match a strong program of instruction when it comes to increasing productivity and decreasing discomfort and injuries.
In the webinar, Jonathan Puleio, the director of consulting at Humanscale, said that ergonomic equipment doesn't help much if employees don't know how to use it. However, few employees are actually taught much about ergonomics before they get to work.
"Many organizations will perform an installation and then they will abandon the employee," Puleio said. "The result is the employee will use the tools improperly."
Puleio said this happens because employers and employees think ergonomics is just about equipment without focusing on how to make the equipment work in practice.
Laptop on a desk.
To illustrate the dissonance between ergonomic requirements and the way most people function in the workplace, Puleio cited the example of an employee using a laptop computer at her desk.
Doesn't sound like much of a problem, right?
Chances are many people who have used laptops and desks have used them in concert. The problem, Puleio said, is that to view the monitor comfortably in this arrangement, the user would have to be about 5 feet tall. But because of the average desk height, to use the keyboard comfortably, you'd have to be about 6 feet, 4 inches tall.
"Employees think the problem is equipment-related, but often they are not," Puleio said. "They are training and education issues."
Puleio cited a study by Cornell University researcher Alan Hedge that involved discomfort levels in two groups of workers. The groups were provided with the same equipment, but one group was trained while the other was not.
The group without training reported no significant reduction in discomfort while the trained group reported the opposite.
"The equipment by itself is not necessarily going to improve results," Puleio explained. "It's the proper tools combined with education."
Feeling better, doing more.
The lack of education and training contributes to an inadequate awareness of just what exactly ergonomics is, Puleio said, and most employers don't begin to focus on ergonomics until after workplaces are built and workstations are set up.
"The mentality is that ergonomics is something that can be addressed after people move in," Puleio said. "As a result we have a place that is completely fixed, and we are surprised that people are experiencing discomfort."
Puleio advised that ergonomics needs to be a collaborative project that involves as many stakeholders as possible, including personnel from HR, IT, the design team, the risk management staff, and other areas.
This is especially true when a new workspace is being planned.
"I can't tell you how many times I have seen an entire new space constructed, and the internal health and safety folks were never consulted," Puleio said.
It isn't just organizational communication that's on the line; employees who experience discomfort won't be productive, Puleio explained.
"Ergo is really just an extension of a health and wellness program," he said. "People are feeling better, they are healthier, they are more comfortable, they are able to do things they couldn't do before."
But to get there, Puleio said employers need to know what ergonomics is all about.
"The best thing we can do is figure out the most cost-effective way to systematically improve awareness at all levels," he said. "If we can focus on the training and education component, all of the other components fall into place."
By Frank Ferreri, Legal Editor
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
June 10, 2013
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