Ergonomics done right.®
November 11th, 2008

EU Recognizes Importance of Ergonomics and Safety

Recently I was on the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work website and there was a post titled European Week aims at cutting workplace accidents and diseases, and it made me think of the differences between the approach of the EU to ergonomics and safety versus the US approach. What drew me to this article was the statement from the Director of EU-OSHA:

"Every three-and-a-half minutes somebody in the EU dies from work-related causes and every four-and-a-half seconds an EU worker is involved in an accident that forces them to stay at home for at least three working days. This is unacceptable! We need a change, and this change starts with assessing workplace risks. We have to make employers, workers, safety representatives and policy makers aware that proper risk assessment is the key to good workplace safety and health management."

Last year, I spent 20 weeks in Europe rolling out a corporate ergonomics process and it allowed me to see first hand cultural differences between sites. The attitude of a lot of the companies I've worked with in Europe is "let's plan early and do it right the first time". If they say that Ergonomics and Safety are their number one priority, it is. In the US, I see a lot of advertisements at facilities boasting the importance of safety and ergonomics and how it is the number one priority, but in practice, it is only number one until something more important comes along. In the blog post Leverage Internal Resources for Safety & Ergonomics Communication, Cindy touches on advertising within a facility. This is very important, but national advertising can also be very effective and gives support to companies. Such was the goal with European Week for Safety and Health at Work.

We recently posted A Prescription for Carpal Tunnel Vision: Thoughts on an Ergonomic Standard which was a response to the recent news of an ergonomics regulation potentially coming into effect with the change in the US Presidency. Although labor unions tend to support ergonomics regulations to reduce workplace injuries, businesses in the US often feel that supporting ergonomics will be too costly. They do not want to invest the time or energy into something that may not show an immediate return on investment. They do not understand the long term value of ergonomics. This is in part due to the approach that companies take with their ergonomics process. As many companies do with their Lean Manufacturing initiatives, ergonomic principles are applied in a non-systemic way. By not seeing the whole picture and understanding all of the aspects that need to be considered, they end up unsuccessful. Successful companies understand that if you invest resources, time, and money early, it will save much more in the long run in terms of injuries, rework, and productivity. Being proactive and systematic in your approach is the key.

The European Union recognizes that being proactive means looking at risk and not injuries. Risk reduction starts with assessments. In order to fix a problem or reduce risk, you first need to understand it. Only after you have identified risk can you move towards implementing countermeasures to reduce that risk. All of this data needs to be tracked so that you can ensure that your countermeasures are making a significant difference. When done well, this is a process that will yield a startling ROI in both the short-term and long-term.