I have been a consultant in ergonomics for nearly 15 years. Some may say that’s too long, while others may call me a mere babe in the woods.
During that time, I have been fortunate to work all over the world. In my travels, I have worked in almost every industry, and with hundreds of organizations and thousands of professionals. In all honesty, the best thing about my job has been the people I have met and the perspective I’ve gained about them and their relationship to their work.
No matter what country you are from, people at work are the same. Our bodies are made of the same elements and structures, and our physical capabilities are quite similar. Our nervous system reacts to pain and discomfort the same way, our minds foster similar emotions when we encounter similar circumstances, our hearts pump blood, we all breathe air and our biomechanics are the same.
People are have similar attributes, and so do corporations. Through my observations, the challenges companies face tend to be universal when implementing workplace improvement plans. When launching an ergonomics process to address discomfort, pain and injury (musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs), I have found that maintaining a structured approach yields the best results. Some key elements include:
➤ Having top management support
➤ Identifying one or two goals, establishing two or three metrics and driving people toward the goals
➤ Outlining roles and responsibilities
➤ Defining and providing training in tools and methods for analysis and solution specification
➤ Completing risk assessments and prioritizing jobs for improvement
➤ Managing the audit and process review criteria and schedule.
These elements will contribute to your overall success. However, I’ve encountered companies that have many, if not all, of these elements in place, yet they still do not achieve their goals.
So what’s the barrier? Unfortunately, most organizations fail in their implementation because they fail to make enough physical changes to the workplace. The fact is simple: An improper design of the workplace results in more MSDs. If you do not make changes to the tools, equipment, product orientation, workstation layout or forces required to complete tasks, you will fail.
MSD risks are caused by situations in the workplace that employees must overcome every day. These obstacles in the workplace may include items like a workbench that is positioned too low, a button that is just out of reach or tools that don’t quite fit the task.
The types of changes on which you should be concentrating need not be expensive, nor require capital project review. In fact, many won’t require any purchases at all. Think about it. How much money does it take raise a workbench, lower a control panel or provide the right tool for the job? Look for the simple solution; this is the key to success. And the best resources you have are your creative employees, a crafty maintenance crew, and a simple mandate: Find the hassles and fix them.
It’s easy for professionals to get stuck in a rut as we grow accustomed to everyday routines. It also is easy for your ergonomics process to stall as you get “paralysis by analysis.” When you recognize that you are stalled, the answer is easy: Get out in the workplace, work with a small team and make a change. You’ll be surprised at how this will breathe life into your process and begin to drive you toward the success you seek.
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].