Ergonomics done right.®
March 19th, 2018

Webinar Q&A: Five Ways to Manage MSDs

Thank you to those who attended last week’s webinar, Five Approaches to Managing MSDs. Below are answers to the questions that were posed during the session, plus some others that we didn’t get to during the live event.

Q: How does “fit the person” work with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements?

A: The ADA is about accommodation for an individual with specific needs, usually a fixed-condition that a person has. Ergonomics is designing the workplace to fit the working population you’re designing for—a general group of people. Accommodation is very different from ergonomics because it is more specific to the individual and takes more focus and resources.

Q: Is job rotation a way to control MSDs?

A: Recently published studies concluded that job rotation is inefficient in reducing musculoskeletal disorders and can cause additional exposure. Watch The Bottom Line: Job Rotation: Four Key Findings for more information.

Q: What do you recommend for a risk assessment tool?

A: In our experience, we use three key tools: a whole-body tool (such as the BRIEF™ Survey), a tool specific to the lower back for manual material handling and lifting tasks (the NIOSH Lifting Equation), and a tool related to push, pull and carry tasks. (We often use the Liberty Mutual tables).

Q: ­Do you study MSDs in the USA and other countries?  If so, how do MSDs in the US compare to other countries? ­

A:  Yes, we do study MSDs in other countries.  Many of our clients have operations in locations across the globe and MSD injuries are an issue at all locations. The main difference in MSD management between the US and other countries is due to the difference between our workers compensation system and socialized medicine in most countries. Because of our system, work-related injuries are reported to, and by, employers.  In turn, employers are responsible for the cost of treatment.  In countries with socialized medicine, employers may not have information on these injuries, or be responsible for their costs.  As a result, reporting and tracking MSDs at work may be more of a challenge in non-US operations because mandatory reporting may not be in place.

Q: ­I saw you had measurements from regions of the world. Where can we find that­?

A: The anthropometric tables we shared in the presentation are from our software tool, The Humantech System®.  This is an online resource available to subscribers of the tool.  The information in our tables is based on many valid sources. In lieu of our software resource, there are several references available for anthropometric data. Some good reference books are:

  • Bodyspace: Anthropometry, Ergonomics and the Design of Work.  By Stephen Pheasant and Christine M. Haslegrave
  • The Measure of Man and Woman: Human Factors in Design.  By Alvin R. Tilley and Henry Dreyfuss
  • Human Factors Design Handbook.  By Wesley Woodson, Peggy Tillman, and Barry Tillman

Q: ­How do you suggest we effectively sustain improvements?­

A:  To sustain improvements for ergonomics try to copy the current methods your organization uses to sustain quality, productivity, and other performance improvements.

It is best to keep people at all levels of your organization focused on the single goal of your ergonomics improvement process.  For leading companies, the goal is to reduce the level of exposure to MSD risk factors to an acceptable level. Measure and track this using quantitative risk assessments.  Use the results of risk assessments as a key performance measure which is reviewed by the program sponsor (top manager).  For more information on this see the e-book, Leading Workplace Improvement: 4 Key Actions by Business Leaders.

In addition to tracking this key measure, another method for sustaining improvement is to review metrics, conditions, and improvements frequently. This can be achieved several ways:

  • Make ergonomic improvements required, not optional.  Include use of these controls in written SOPs.
  • Add MSD risk reduction measures to the key metrics reviewed along with all business measures.  This should be part of a plant manager/CEO’s dashboard.  And they should take action if performance is not trending in the right direction.
  • Managers and supervisors should look for all ergonomic improvements when they conduct a walk-around of their area. This is an opportunity for them to visibly show their support and hold employees accountable.
  • Include the check and testing of ergonomic improvement (ex. lifting device, hoist, powered driver, etc.) in employee start-up instructions.

Most of all, take action. If ergonomic improvements are not being maintained or used, leadership must address this with the appropriate people.

Q: ­How do you suggest we make ergonomics personal, so employees understand why it is important to them?­

A: Ergonomics is personal only when an individual (employee) sees value or need to either use an ergonomic improvement or identify a potential MSD risk. This starts with establishing an expectation that employees are responsible for identifying  risk factors in their workstations, and  that they will use all safety equipment and procedures.  The foundation of this is to clearly define the roles and responsibilities for ergonomics  at all levels in an organization.  This is usually spelled out in an organization’s ergonomics standard.

To learn more on this topic, download our e-book Five Approaches to Managing MSDs: What Really Works.