Ergonomics done right.®
September 20th, 2009

Facilities Managers role… (Part 2)


Submitted by Walt Rostykus, B.S., MSPH, CIH, CSP, CPE

Continued from my previous post on the “Safety Pays” article in the
May edition of Today’s Facility Manager magazine.

What really caught my attention in the article is the
complete lack of attention to engineering controls to improve safety.  The
author used the example of injuries caused by poor ergonomic conditions and
recommends training, back belts, revised job descriptions to
limit the allowable weight lifted, and to rotate jobs… 
Whatever happened to the Hierarchy of Controls?  Facilities Managers are
the key decision makers and influencers to ensure the workplace, equipment
layout, and tools are designed to fit the capabilities of people, and to
identify and eliminate ergonomic risk factors.

  • If you design the workplace so material is
    placed a waist level instead of the floor, you automatically eliminate the need
    to bend and lift. 

  • If you have materials delivered in smaller
    volume, or provided lifting assist devices, you reduce the risk of the lift and
    eliminate the need for training and back belts.

  • If you reduce the awkward postures and high
    forces required to perform work through the design of the workstation, you
    eliminate the need to rotate people and provide breaks.

The author primarily recommends administrative and personal protective
equipment controls – recommendations that either don’t work or have limited effectiveness!  A few key points to consider:

  • Training is only effective if employees
    regularly practice what they were taught (and that the advice was
    correct).  Asking someone to work safely in an unsafe environment, or to
    lift an unsafe weight safely, is unfair to people at work
  • Back belts were proven to not be effective
    preventing injuries among uninjured workers (NIOSH 1994).
  • Setting limits for the weight people are allowed
    to lift is an easy, inexpensive, but ineffective solution.  Again you are
    depending on the individual behaviors of people to work safely in an unsafe

  • Job rotation and rest breaks only affect one of
    the three primary risk factors for WMSDs (duration/frequency).  Job
    rotation must be based on the ergonomic risk factors present in a job; otherwise
    you may rotate someone from a low risk to high risk exposure. 

The lesson here is “Go back to your roots;
Engineering.  Pursue engineering controls in the design and layout of your
facility that reduce the risk factors of awkward posture, high force, and long
duration/high frequency”.
  By providing a low risk workplace you will
recognize ROI through injury prevention, decreased training time, decreased
time spent by supervisors correcting unsafe behaviors, eliminate spending money
on PPE and back belts, cost of additional breaks, and cost of retraining people
to perform other jobs (rotation) to name a few.