Is the One-on-One Office Assessment Dead?

In the office, the science of ergonomics commonly is applied to the design, selection and setup of equipment to ensure a proper fit and an engaging work environment.

A good office ergonomics program will reduce the number of dissatisfied or injured workers, improve productivity and positively affect employee morale and efficiency. Companies recognize the value and have invested in better equipment, better tools and better information to help ensure the fit works.

In the good ol' days, which is laughably only 5 or 10 years ago, office ergonomics programs were extremely dependent on one-on-one assessments. The tried-and-true method of calling in an expert, whether an internal or external “consultant” — to meet with an individual, understand their challenges and identify solutions — worked. And it still does. The problem is, it takes a lot of resources. For this reason, it is impossible to be truly proactive, especially in larger organizations with hundreds or thousands of office employees.

There has been a shift in technology that we can harness to help manage large scale, proactive office ergonomics programs. Webinars, online training and online surveys are examples of tools that raise the level of efficiency with which information is collected, shared and used. Your ergonomics program can benefit too — just make sure there is a balance between face time and technology time.

For your program to be successful it must be comprehensive, well-planned well-structured and engage workers in the process. Remember, to be truly effective, ergonomics is done WITH people, not TO people. With that in mind, the key components are:

Education: Training is a key component in a successful office ergonomics program. It should provide participants with a road map for solving their own simple ergonomic hassles before they become problems (i.e., discomfort and injury). By enabling your employees to make meaningful contributions to the improvement of their own workstations, you are pulling them into the process and the positive changes they make are more likely to stick.

E-learning or online training is a very efficient way to complete awareness training. Key to the success of any e-learning program is a balance between content and time. While everything may seem important, try to limit yourself to key concepts and usable/actionable information. And don't forget that the course needs to keep the participants' attention. A well-designed course is interactive and engages the participant in learning through a mix of topical information, exercises and tests.

Assessment: Ergonomic analysis ensures that you're focusing your company's investment on the most important concerns and the most effective solutions. Without some measure of how important problems are, the tendency is to concentrate efforts on the people who complain the most or who have the most political influence, missing what may be higher-priority issues experienced by the silent sufferers.

Today, online surveys are an efficient method of helping you assess the ergonomic condition of your workplace. A well-designed, concise survey will provide you with rapid, accurate information both on specific concerns (people) and general trends for equipment challenges.

Data Management: Once you've collected information on the workplace from your workers, you need to analyze it. Any report you generate should enable you and the others to understand and quantify the level of concern at each workstation and across the organization, quickly and effectively.

In managing the “people data,” the assessment should allow you to objectively sort people into high, moderate and low concern categories. Obviously, you will be spending your face time with the high concern people, but when you get to the appointment, you'll have a preview of their issues and you'll know that they have gone through the training and made honest efforts to make their workstations better themselves.

Similarly, in managing the “equipment data,” the survey assessment should help you understand your most prevalent equipment challenges and help you to make a better purchasing plan and to negotiate a better purchase price for the equipment you need.

Remember, the goal of an online survey assessment is to help identify, manage and improve the majority of your workplace ergonomic issues — the simple ones. Then there are issues that require the more traditional method of assessment.

One-on-One Time: Having individual assessment expertise, either internal or external, is an absolute must when rolling out a comprehensive ergonomics process in the office. You will encounter workers who are diagnosed with a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) or who already are experiencing significant pain and discomfort. There also are people in your organization that have more challenging equipment needs. All of these situations will require balancing trade-offs and none can be solved by relying solely on an automated survey or program. Don't underestimate the importance of human interaction, empathy and discussion in your ergonomics program.

By combining technology (e-learning modules and online surveys), traditional office ergonomics methods (one-on-one assessments) and a properly planned program, your organization will be armed with the tools necessary to efficiently accomplish your office ergonomics goals and provide your work force with an environment that allows employees to perform at their best.


James Mallon, CPE, is a vice president with Humantech, which delivers practical solutions that impact safety, quality and productivity. Humantech believes people make productivity happen. For additional information, visit http://www.humantech.com or call 734-663-6707. Mallon can be contacted directly at [email protected].

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