A few months ago, I was lucky enough to be assigned a project with a client located in Germany. Now, considering that I was born in, and have always lived in the U.S., I can’t pretend to know any German. So, like any good traveler, I bought myself a pocket German phrase book and started studying. Yet, within five minutes of arriving in the town where I would be working, I found that no matter how hard I had studied, it was going to be a struggle to communicate with people. This disconnect in communication really hit home when I started conducting ergonomic assessments on the facility floor and was not able to speak directly with the operators performing the job.
Understanding job requirements, physical challenges, and body area discomfort is essential in effective data collection. Regardless of whether you’re in Germany, the U.S., or any other country, interviewing operators is one of the most vital elements in pinpointing the root causes of musculoskeletal disorder risk factors, as well as understanding what improvements are feasible to solve the problem at hand. Face-to-face interaction with operators enables you to learn much more about jobs or tasks than you could through simple observation. They are the ones, after all, who perform that job 40 to 60 hours a week. I may be a certified ergonomist, but the operator working on the production floor is the true expert at his or her job.
When it comes to building and managing a truly effective ergonomics process—finding gaps, performing assessments, brainstorming recommendations and sustaining improvements—never forget the importance of involving the real expert, the operator who’s got their hand directly on the work all day, every day. So even if you’re traveling, make sure you brush up on your German, French, Chinese, etc., that way you won’t miss out on an opportunity to ask the expert about his job!