Ergonomics done right.®
July 17th, 2017

Honest Conversations Lead to Solid Partnerships

A colleague said something to me over a decade ago, and it sticks with me today: “A company that is willing to do the little things is capable of doing the big things.” I love that phrase and have been thinking about it  a lot lately, as I discuss our process, tools, and expected outcomes with corporate prospects. They are often surprised when the phone call turns into an interview about them and their processes—to determine if we are a good fit for each other.

Now, I don’t have a script for these phone calls or meetings, but I generally ask a few key questions. Think about what your answers would be.

  1. What do you think of when you hear the word “ergonomics”?  Are your company’s efforts focused solely on injury investigation, safe-lifting training, job rotation, or an improved wellness program? I invite you to take a different approach, and focus on the design of workstations, tools, and/or the process. We align ergonomics with the NIOSH definition of “designing the workplace to match people’s capabilities.” Ergonomics is an engineering discipline, with links to productivity and quality, as well as safety. Refer to the position statements published on our website for more specifics.
  2. What have you done in the past to address the problem?  I speak to a lot of organizations that had an ergonomics team at some point, perhaps even did some assessments and completed some improvements, but efforts have stalled and they have not seen the year-over-year decrease in injuries that they were hoping for. Usually, I find that these companies were focusing on lagging metrics (injuries) rather than leading metrics (MSD risk). And if I probe a bit, I will likely discover that there was no one driving the process at the leadership level.
  3. What other groups are involved besides the safety department?  Chances for success significantly decrease if ergonomics lives and breathes only within safety. Providing well-defined roles for people at all levels of the organization is key. This includes engaging employees in problem identification and improvements, developing on-site expertise within different groups (leadership, quality, lean, purchasing, front-line managers) and heavy involvement (even ownership) of the process by the engineering department.

Tying back to the quote, you’ll notice that these questions have little to do with “the little things” e.g. specific manufacturing processes, how much weight people can lift, or what kind of injuries employees experience. My experience is that working through the “big things” first sets you on the path to success. I want to know that we share the vision of how to sustain your initiative in the long term.

The conversation may go differently than what you were expecting, but I would ask you to trust the experts. We will likely challenge your thinking on some things (and you will challenge us back), but if you didn’t want that, you would have probably just Googled it! Honest conversations lead to solid partnerships. It is one of my favorite parts of working with such a great client base. So, let’s talk soon.