Ergonomics done right.®
December 21st, 2011

Questions and Answers from Humantech’s Recent Webinar on Benchmarking Ergonomics Programs

by Walt Rostykus, CPE

Humantech recently presented a short web course entitled Keys to Ergonomics Program Success on December 14th. We received some great questions and wanted to share our response to those. We’d love to hear if you agree (or disagree) and what you company is doing to successfully manage workplace ergonomics.

Q: You said that online training and assessments are being used for offices.  What should I look for in a good office ergonomics software program?

A: There are several online applications available today billed as “office ergonomics software”.  They can be categorized into two general types: stretching and break programs, and assessment and training programs.  The first type focuses on personal health and wellness and has minimal effect on reducing the causative factors of musculskeletal disorders (MSDs).  It is our experience that people tire of them and stop their use within 1 to 4 months.  The second type are what we mentioned in the webinar. These are designed to provide awareness training and/or lead people to assess their workstation set up make adjustments.  This approach is known to reduce MSD risk factors present in office and computer workstations.  Features to look for include:

  • A focus on identifying and addressing MSD risk factors in office/computer tasks
    including standard office and remote (ex. Home, hotel, etc.) office workplaces.
  • Training that is SCORM compliant to align with a Learning Management System (LMS),
  • Assessment questions which focus on identification of MSD risk factors in the workplace rather than personal health.
  • Results of the assessment provided immediately upon completing the assessment questions, provide a measure of relative risk present, identify areas of concern by body part or workstation elements, and provide easy to implement solutions that are specific to the issues/risk factors identified.
  • Solutions that pursue adjustment of the existing workstation and equipment before recommending purchase of new equipment, and present only the furniture and devices approved by and provided by the organization.
  • Data from assessments and solutions which are available to the program manager to track trends of use and results.
  • Assessments and solutions that are easily tailored by the organization to reflect the local program and offerings.

Q: I disagree that stretching is not part of ergonomics.  What is your reason for saying it is not?  Isn’t it effective?

A: NIOSH defines occupational ergonomics as “the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to fit the capabilities of the working population”.  In other words, making the workplace fit the person.  Stretching is part of wellness and fitness that focuses on changing the capabilities of an individual, not changing the workplace.  Although many companies include stretching as part of their programs, current research has not proven any effectiveness of company driven stretching programs on the reduction of first time MSD injuries.

Q: If we are currently a “reactive program”, what should we do first to move to being more “proactive”?

A: The first step is to transition from the lagging measures of injuries and discomfort to the proactive measure of MSD risk factors.  This will get your program focused on identifying and preventing the causes of MSDs (and discomfort) before an incident happens.  This will also change your program goal from injury reduction to risk reduction.

Q: What are some quantitative assessment tools available to use?

A:  REBA (Rapid Entire Body Assessment) and BRIEF (Baseline Risk Identification of Ergonomic Factors) are two whole body risk assessment tools that provide scores of risk level.  The NIOSH Lifting Equation is a quantitative measurement tool used for lifting.   When selecting assessment tools take time to understand what they are based on (i.e. research), their ease of use, and the definition of scoring.  Ensure that they are valid, repeatable, reliable, and provide the definition within a single task and between tasks.

Q: Is online training really effective?

A:  The effectiveness of training, online or in person, depends on the intended learning objective, class content, and methods for verifying learning.  For awareness of ergonomics (both office and non-office), and for teaching principles of ergonomics, good online training classes are effective.  However, skills training like conducting assessments, applying design criteria, selecting solutions, do require some hands-on application and feedback from the instructor.  Portions of skills training are better completed through classroom or in-person coaching, not online.

Q: What did companies say about the effect of the recession on their ergonomics program?

A: The impact of the recent economy described by participating companies can be broken out into three categories; No Impact – 23%, Minor Impact – 59%, and Greater Impact – 18%.  These varied more by the type of industry and culture of the organization rather than the maturity of their ergonomics program.

–     No Impact: These companies described no significant impact on the resources or focus of their ergonomics program.

–     Minor Impact:  These companies experienced some constraints on funding and the availability of people to participate in the ergonomics program.

–     Greater Impact:  These companies have significant loss of funding and key people supporting their ergonomics program. They also made some changes in their overall program goals and measures.

Q: I wonder what challenges you have seen in consulting with ergonomics for industry due to 86% of the United States population now is Overweight and/ or with 1 or more chronic diseases, that was that was published on Oct 17th, 2011 by Gallop from their “Well-Being Index”?

A: The greatest impact of obesity on workplace ergonomics we’ve seen is the effect on reach distance and movement of large employees.  Winnie Ip, CPE and Humantech’s Director of Consulting presented this challenge and solutions at the 2011 ASSE Conference.  The other impact we’ve seen is with patient handling, specific moving bariatric patients.  This has increased the weight that healthcare professionals are expected to move during manual patient handling.

Q: What about investment, were you able to determine how much money companies invested in their ergonomics program based on employee headcount or revenue?

A:  Money is always a tough topic to discuss, even in benchmarking.  When we asked about the annual investment in the ergonomics program, 76% of participants did not know how much was spent.  So we asked people to identify general ranges of investment.  They were:

<$500,000  –  50%

$500,000 to $1Million  – 44%

>$1Million – 6%

Granted these numbers are rough estimates but we calculated that companies invest 0.0043% .05% (median = 0.0046%) of their annual revenue on ergonomics.