Home Ergonomics Benchmarking Webinar Q &A Ergonomics Done Right®

Written by: Kent Hatcher on March 5th, 2010

Q: Why not train employees first?

A: By training leadership, the ergonomics process manager, engineers, and ergonomics team members first, the strategic and technical resources are established to support employee comments and requests.  Establishing these resources first ensures the organization is prepared to respond to and assist employees request for further assessment and solution design.

 

Q: What makes a good ergonomics team member?

A: Some of the key characteristics of effective and successful team members are: good problem solving skills; demonstrated innovation, communication, and creativity; ability to work collaboratively and get things done; drive; familiarity with organization and processes.

 

Q: Even when you presented that ergo resources could vary from 1-2hrs/month to full time, which will be the best approach?

A: With most ergonomic teams/resources, the amount of time allocated for people to support the program is a decision best made by top management (the Management Sponsor).  They typically align the commitment of people and time resources based on how aggressive the improvement goal is, and amount of time the organization can commit people in these roles. 

Q: Most cross functional teams have 8-16 hours per month available to fulfill their roles. Do you have or supply any supporting document, presentation or training focused on engineering?

A: Yes, Humantech offers Advanced Ergonomic training specifically for engineers using the Handbook of Ergonomic Design Guidelines.  Together they provide engineers hands-on application of common design criteria and builds confidence and skills.

 

Q: Do you have any material on how to conduct an ergonomic risk assessment?

A: Yes, our Applied Industrial Ergonomics manual includes instructions and several risk assessment tools.  The manual can be purchased from the Humantech website. We recommend that individuals take our Applied Industrial Ergonomics Training class (available in 1-day, 2 and 3 day formats. This class focuses on the key elements of risk assessment and the job improvement process.

 

Q: I feel both excited and overwhelmed after listening to your presentation. Just wondering where to start! Once I complete your assessment form, is there one area that you think should maybe be my initial focus?

A: The Ergonomic Program Self Assessment results will indicate the strengths and the outages within your ergonomics process. Start at the beginning with Planning.  Look at the current status of your ergonomics program, and the problem you are trying to solve (ex. reduce injuries, improve productivity, reduce risks, etc.).  First determine where you are. (What is the problem and how big is it?)  Then determine where you want to be (ex. risk reduction goal, level of maturity, etc.).  Finally, use the results of the Ergonomic Program Self Assessment and your statement of where you want to be to identify the program areas to strengthen or establish. Establish a clear plan with defined steps before attempting to launch the process.

 

A good written guide is the AIHA publication Ergonomics Program Guidance Document Aligned with ANSI/AIHA Z10-2005.  It is available from the American Industrial Hygiene Association (product number EERA08-742) and available from http://www.aiha.org/news-pubs/Pages/default.aspx.


Q: I am a Six Sigma consultant. I learned some things about ergonomics process while obtaining my Black Belt but not sure how well I am ready to lead an ergonomics process effectively. Are there courses for professional like myself to learn more about ergonomics?

A: Humantech’s Applied Ergonomics training class leverages ergonomics principles in lean manufacturing activities to optimize workplace improvements. (More information.) Also, Humantech’s Advanced Ergonomics Design Workshop is a great class for learning the ins and outs of designing countermeasures and design tools, equipment and workstations right the first time.  Both are available this fall in public seminars. We work at clients sites offering tailored versions of the training.

 

Q: During this tough economic time, how do you suggest getting ergonomic improvements in the plants without a lot or any financial backing?

A: Making improvements (engineering changes) to the workplace does not always require a high cost.  It is our experience that most (~80%) of ergonomic issues can be addressed and improved through simple adjustments and modifications at no cost or at non-capital expenses.

 

When you are asked to justify funding improvements, don’t focus on the cost of the improvement but the value or Return-on-Investment.  The savings of injury avoidance (and resulting reduction of insurance premium) is one measure.  A quicker and more valid measure is the cost of cycle time improvements.

 

Q: What's the purchasing dept. role addressing ergonomics req. in new equipment/tools?

A: The purchasing department is a critical element of a proactive and integrated ergonomics process.  They play a critical role monitoring and controlling new purchases to ensure that all new equipment and tools have been reviewed to ensure they do not introduce new exposures to risk factors of musculoskeletal disorders. 

 

Q: Please define "world class". Is there any reference, ISO, ANSI or other standard defining "world-class?"

A: We are unaware of any standards organization establishing a definition of the term “world class”.  However the description by the US Government Accounting Office reflects most descriptions:  World Class (“Leading”) Organizations: organizations that are recognized as the best for at least one critical business process and are held as models for other organizations.”

 

Q: Is there a book you could recommend on office ergonomics (for someone who is not an ergonomist)?

A: Humantech’s Ergonomics in the Office Pocket Primer

 

Q: Who has online self assessments?

A: Humantech offers Ergopoint Office Suite 

Cardinus Risk Management offers Workstation Safety Plus

 

Q: What to measure? I believe measuring the reduction in exposure to a problem/dangerous area is a more proactive method of tracking improvement. Many in the company want to measure the reduction in injuries. (Reactive- no clear action taken until the injury has already occurred). How do I explain to my coworkers that we need to reduce the probability, on a consistent basis, of injuries?

A: In the US, we track and report the rate of recordable injuries and illnesses because it is required (for OSHA and DOL).  You are correct, this is a lagging and reactive measure of consequences. Unfortunately the measure does not allow organizations to predict and prevent losses from occurring.

 

Proactive and preventive ergonomic improvement programs focus measures and tracking on one thing, reducing exposure to the risk factors that contribute to musculoskeletal disorders.  These risk factors include; awkward posture, high force, and the time element of frequency and/or duration.  The threshold for exposure varies with each body part (ex. wrist, elbow, shoulder, neck, back, etc.) The proactive measure of risk exposure is scalable in that it can be used to measure several levels of an organization; the job, line, plant, business unit, or the whole organization.

 

Q: How did you obtain your injury data? What documentation did you analyze?

A: The injury data was requested during each benchmarking interview.  We asked for three metrics:  What is the current recordable injury/illness rate?  What was the recordable injury/illness rate prior to starting the ergonomics program or at least 5 years ago?  What percentage of recordable injuries do you attribute to poor ergonomics?   Participants drew this information from their program records.

 

Q: How long did it take Walt to grow his beard?

A: I’ve had a beard since I was 20.  Since then I’ve only shaved three times… The trick to growing a beard is – don’t shave. 

 

Q: How can I save this so that I can show it to employees at a meeting?

A: A recording of the webinar, copies of the slides, and the Ergonomics Program Self Assessment are available on-line from EHS Today.

 

Q: Can this be used in a behavioral based safety program?

A: Yes, the best opportunity for integration with Behavior Based Safety is to use the qualitative screening tool for observations made by supervisors and employees. Remember that by pursuing engineering controls to reduce safety (WMSD) risk factors in the workplace first, you will reduce the need for Behavior Based Safety practices.  This is because good ergonomic design automatically eliminates poor work practices.

 

Q: We have an older work force, although you would think they would welcome ergonomic improvements, they resist it over and over again. What can we do, they just don't like change?

A: Accepting change is a challenge for people at all ages – Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.  Most engineering controls to improve ergonomics can be viewed as unwelcome if forced onto the workforce.  The key to change is employee engagement and involvement.  This means training employees and including them (or their representatives) in both problem identification and in determining the best solutions to solve the problem.  Ask the expert, the operator, they know about the feasibility and impact of an improvement.

 

Q: How can I get a copy of the ergonomics program self assessment so that I can get a score for my process?

A: The Ergonomics Program Self Assessment is available online.

 

Q: Can you explain the data that goes on the red/yellow/green chart and what it means?

A: The red/yellow/green colors used on digital dashboard are assigned to reflect the change from an acceptable threshold.  For example, when used to present the results of ergonomic risk assessments; green means that the level of risk is within an acceptable level, yellow is just above the acceptable level (i.e. moderate risk), and red is well above (i.e. higher risk).  The colors can also be used to indicate if and to what degree other program measures are on target.  For example: green= >100%+, yellow = >75-99%, red = <75%.

 

Q: With the impact of an aging workforce do you recommend stretching or a warm-up period prior to starting work and if so, what types are most effective?

A: The primary impacts of aging on performance are the effects on vision and hearing.  We recommend improving lighting and visual acuity, and addressing audible alarms.  Specific information is available in recordings of two webinars; The Future of Manufacturing – Optimizing an Aging Workforce and Designing the Workplace for the Aging Population.  Stretching and warm up are a good part of a wellness program for a person at any age.

 

Q: What specific risk assessment tools were commonly seen in your study? Do you have specific recommendations for good tools?

A: Qualitative Assessment Tools:

Quantitative Assessment Tools:

Whole Body

Specific body part

Action or Motion

Q: What risk assessment tool is better suited for office use?

A whole body quantifiable risk assessment tool like REBA (Rapid Entire Body Assessment) or Humantech’s BRIEF (Baseline Risk Identification of Ergonomic Issues) can be used but are overkill for the office. A better approach is to use a self-assessment like Humantech’s Ergopoint Office Suite. OSHA also offers a computer workstation checklist on their website.

 

Q: How effective can a site internal ergonomics program be versus bringing in an outside consultant to assess, train, and provide guidance? Your thoughts.

An ergonomics process can be effective using outside expertise (ex. consultants) or by developing the expertise within your organization.  The decision to “buy” technical expertise or “build” the skill, knowledge and capability internally should be based on the timeline for completion, availability of internal personnel, and the organization’s ability to commit to and sustain the investment.

Many organizations start by engaging outside consultants (Certified Professional Ergonomists) to help get things started.  This might involve assistance establishing the strategic elements of planning, tool selection, training, and process review; and/or the tactical elements of conducting initial assessments, developing the site risk map, and guiding the first improvement process.

The companies involved in the benchmarking study ultimately developed internal resources (employee teams, engineers, resident experts, and Ergonomics Process Leads) to provide ongoing improvements.  The time to start and establish a sustainable internal team varied with the commitment by management from 6 months to 6-7 years.

With a well defined and planned process; and valid, easy to use, and proven tools (to assess risk and design solutions), employee teams and engineers can be effective in finding and fixing ergonomic issues in their workplace.

Q: Can you recommend additional information/resources for …

 

 (a) Standards for reach distances; weight, repetition, etc.

Humantech has produced the Handbook of Ergonomic Design Guidelines.  It is a comprehensive reference of design parameters for workstations, tools, reaches, weights and motions. 

 

(b) How to evaluate different work areas in a standard method…

Qualitative Assessment Tools:

· Ergonomic Hit List:  Available from Humantech

· Hazard Zone and Caution Zone Checklists: Washington State Labor & Industries

Quantitative Assessment Tools:

(See links in previous question.)

Office Ergonomics:

· Humantech’s Ergopoint Office Suite

· OSHA: computer workstation checklist

 

c)  How to get upper management buy-in?

Two tips for gaining buy in from leadership: speak their language and to their needs, and show the value. First find what aspect of business performance, related to ergonomics, motivates your leaders.  Most are concerned about safety and reduction of injuries.  However, most have their performance plans tied to productivity and quality.  Communicate and show how improved workplace ergonomics will help contribute to their goals for reduced injuries, improved throughput/reduced cycle time, improved quality, employee retention, and/or reduced operation costs.

 

d) How to calculate payback?

Many people estimate the cost of injury avoidance to demonstrate the payback of ergonomic improvements.  A more effective and reliable measure is ROI from the elimination of non-value added motions.

 

When to make changes to the workplace track the performance and risk improvements.  Use the reduced cycle time savings (resulting from elimination of non-value added motions) to calculate the cost of the time savings.  Communicate this as the Return-on-Investment. 

 

Humantech’s Standard Time Efficiency Process (STEP) is a worksheet that helps predict and quantify the ROI from the elimination of non-value added motions.   It is provided in the Applied Industrial Ergonomics Manual. 

 

e) How to incorporate ergonomic goals with company's other goals?

Goals for the Ergonomic Improvement Process should reflect the problem you are trying to solve by applying ergonomic principles.  The goal must be measurable to track progress. Examples include:

Safety/Injury Prevention – Goal: Reduce the exposure to MSD risk factors to a low or no level of risk.

Productivity/Lean Manufacturing – Goal: Reduce non-value added and wasteful motions to the lowest level possible.

Quality – Goal: Eliminate all error producing factors in tool, workstation and job design.

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