Humantech Inc., an ergonomics consulting firm, recently surveyed 109 professionals either involved with or responsible for ergonomics at their company.
The survey, released last month, focused on ergonomics programs and the impact of the proposed OSHA ergonomics standard.
Seventy-three percent of respondents said that their company has a formalized ergonomics program, and 25 percent responded that their companies have made changes to the program due to OSHA''s proposed standard.
Among survey respondents that had a formal program, 83 percent listed employee discomfort and 75 listed a known injury among the conditions that must exist before ergonomic action is taken for a specific job or job type, the study said.
While OSHA''s proposed standard recommends the development of a formal program in response to these triggers, the standard also offers the "Quick Fix" option for employers to respond to problem jobs.
This option gives employers 90 days to identify, implement and record quick fixes to reduce ergonomic risk at a given job.
For many companies, quick fixes will be the extent of their ergonomics activity.
However, all of the respondents Humantech interviewed attributed their success in ergonomics to a well-defined process.
According to Franz Schneider, CPE of Humantech, "Companies need a defined plan for ergonomics with clear objectives and measurable goals." "When companies are able to create a sustainable ergonomics process, they realize improvements in health, safety and productivity and everyone benefits," Schneider concluded.
The survey showed that formal programs are initiated for a variety of reasons, from healthy and safety to total quality and continuous improvement.
Regardless of how the process was developed, every respondent said they have seen an impact on work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) since the inception of their formal program.
Those interviewed support the idea of a formal program, but most had serious concerns with the program as outlined by OSHA. Their concerns include the following.
- The single incident trigger is overinclusive.
- The language is subjective and vague.
- Demands of the grandfather clause place companies with effective programs in place at a disadvantage.
- A risk-based approach would be more effective than the reactive approach of OSHA''s proposed standard.
- Non-occupational symptoms that might be confused with work-related MSDs are not taken into account.
While OSHA''s proposed standard may be a resource to those initiating an ergonomics agenda, these comments suggest its many potential weaknesses, according to Humantech.
Certified Professional Ergonomist Mike Wynn agrees that the standard falls short of industry best practice.
"The proposed standard is essentially reactive," explained Wynn. "Companies are not required to improve the workplace unless someone is injured or someone reports job-related discomfort. The most proactive programs address ergonomics at the design stage."
Humantech has published a free guide to help employers evaluate their ergonomics program activities in comparison with basic OSHA requirements and industry best practice. For a copy, visit www.htec.com.
by Virginia Sutcliffe