Five Tips for Using Metrics to Improve your Ergonomics Process
Every process needs metrics; they are necessary to track and improve the process. Without them, access to resources will be limited. Metrics, whether intended or not, will define the course of action for a process. Selecting the right ones can help your ergonomics process reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) in the workplace and improve human performance. Here are five tips to enhance your use of metrics.
1. Establish a Long-Term Goal
The long-term goal is the vision underlying everything you are striving to achieve with your ergonomics process. It should be distilled to a brief and memorable ten-second introduction to ergonomics when someone asks about the process in your organization. Humantech suggests that you select a goal that is easily measured and is challenging, yet obtainable. For example, you may have a long-term goal of eliminating all high-MSD-risk operations. Your goal should reflect your overall corporate culture and other safety goals.
There are several advantages to choosing your goal to eliminate high-risk operations. MSD risk level is a leading indicator, which can be used to pinpoint areas where an injury may occur, as compared to the number of MSD injuries, which is a lagging indicator, reflecting those that have already happened. In the short term, injury reduction may not directly correspond to risk reduction due, in part, to the cumulative and multicausal nature of MSDs. And, because injuries are a relatively rare event, injury reduction measures can fluctuate greatly. This is particularly true at a plant or site level. Focusing primarily on the injury reduction numbers can lead to abandoning effective approaches too soon or continuing ineffective approaches longer than you should. Over time, reducing MSD risk exposure will lead to an overall decrease in associated injuries without the fluctuating metric.
Tracking the reduction of high-risk operations also allows your organization to see the improvements they are making directly reflected in the metrics. Visible progress toward a goal results in
- increased motivation of the ergonomics team, and
- greater resources from management.
2. Select a Few Metrics
Having too many metrics can obscure the message you are trying to convey. As an ergonomics process leader, you may track many measures of performance to keep your finger on the pulse of your process. However, the number of metrics that you report to management should be considerably smaller, generally three or fewer. Consider the most important objectives for the coming year and select the metrics that reflect those objectives. It is often useful to have one consistent metric relating to the long-term goal that continues from year to year, and one or two others that relate to specific process goals for the year.
3. Match the Measure to the Maturity of Your Process
The measures that demonstrate progress in the first year of your ergonomics process may be quite different from the ones that you would select in the fifth year. During the ramp-up phase of your process, they will be primarily activity-based, such as the number of assessments completed or the percent of staff completing training. As your process matures, the focus can shift to leading indicators, such as the percent of jobs at high risk and the percent of new equipment meeting design guidelines.
4. Use Metrics to Drive Behavior
Metrics don’t just track your progress; they also affect people’s behaviors. People will behave based on the metrics you’ve chosen to track. If you want to see different behaviors occurring in your ergonomics process, select metrics that will affect those behaviors. For example, if you measure how many fixes are implemented, you are likely to see a high number of inexpensive fixes with little or no impact on risk exposure scores. However, if you measure the number of jobs with a minimum risk reduction score threshold, you will likely see fewer but more effective improvements. Behavior-focused metrics are good candidates for yearly updates; select a new behavior to focus on each year based on your annual process review.
5. Report Results to the Right People
You can track all of the best metrics and present them in the most compelling reports, but if the right people aren’t reviewing those metrics, your progress will be slow or non-existent. If department-level managers are responsible for the resources required to make ergonomics improvements, the metrics should be directed at these managers and their supervisors. One of the best ways to improve senior leadership involvement in your process is to provide them with the metrics they need for making decisions and driving accountability.
The right metrics reflect the efforts and contributions of your ergonomics team. They provide the basis for evaluating your progress and making improvements to your process to achieve even better success in future years. Selecting the right ones is one of the most important aspects of your written ergonomics plan.