Workers face potential safety risks in their working environments every day. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) accounted for 31 percent of all worker injuries in 2015. Work-related injuries, including MSDs, stem from a variety of risk factors which can easily be prevented. To keep employees safe and healthy, managers can create an ergonomic workplace by taking these steps.
The implementation of ergonomic practices in the workplace must involve a top-down approach. Managers and organizational leaders who take the first step in ergonomic planning will see improvements in efficiency and satisfaction from their workers. Creating an environment that values safety and ergonomics requires investments of time and money, and managers who take these actions show staff that they are investing in employee safety. Managers can also show their commitment by taking a leadership role in initiating the ergonomic process by defining goals, estimating an overall budget for implementation, holding meetings with staff, assigning responsibilities to workers, and communicating openly and clearly.
Using ergonomic principles can have substantial results that go beyond employee safety. John Deere and Company, the largest agricultural equipment manufacturer in the U.S., adopted ergonomic practices to reduce physical injury and stress for their employees. Since then, the company has been able to reduce employee back injuries by 83 percent and cut costs for workers’ compensation by 32 percent.
While it is up to managers to spearhead the movement, employee participation at every level is critical to seeing results. Assessing worksites, developing possible solutions, and implementing the practices that increase worker safety require employee input. The employees are the ones who spend the most time using the equipment, machines, and furniture in the workplace, so they are more knowledgeable when it comes to identifying and describing the hazards and dangers they encounter. Worker involvement is crucial for providing feedback and evaluation in all areas of the ergonomic process.
Another important part of instituting ergonomics practices involves reviewing the offices, facilities, factories, warehouses, and any other worksites to identify potential issues before they harm workers. A review records of injury and illness, such as workers’ compensation reports, first aid records, accident investigations, and insurance company records can inform this step in the process. Observation of workplace conditions for injury risk factors such as repetitive tasks, awkward or sustained postures, excessive force exertion, vibrations, and extreme temperatures will also support appropriate ergonomic changes.
To identify problems, stay on top of developing issues, and manage progress, management and organization leaders should encourage early reporting of any injuries sustained at the workplace and any symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders. This is a necessary step for improving working conditions. If workers keep quiet about their injuries, they will only get worse. If they are encouraged to communicate any issues with management, they have better chances of improving their health.
Find Ways to Control Hazards
Once potential hazards and dangers have been identified and assessed, practical ergonomic solutions should be put in place to help lower the risk of injury. A number of potential interventions can modify existing equipment and practices to ensure hazards are controlled. First, physical changes can be made to the work environment that allow for more comfortable, ergonomic postures. Controls for repetitive and excessive exertion tasks include protocols requiring mandatory breaks, task rotation, or two people for heavy lifts. Finally, personal protection equipment should be considered, including thermal gloves, comfortable shoes, and hard hats.
An essential step in the process of implementing ergonomic solutions in the workplace is to provide employee training. Workers should understand the principles of ergonomics, ergonomics-related issues at work, the benefits of identifying problems, early reporting of symptoms, and how to properly use new equipment and tools. Many resources and training materials are available from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which offers courses at the OSHA Training Institute and its On-site Consultation Program.
Maintaining a safe, worker-friendly ergonomic environment is an ongoing process. After management commits, problems are identified, solutions are proposed, and workers are trained, there is still work to be done. Procedures should be in place for periodically evaluating the effectiveness of new policies and procedures to ensure their continued success.
Most of these changes are in expensive and require a small time investment, but once they are made, managers and their organizations will see savings in health care and workers’ compensation costs, decreases in time lost to injury, and an overall increase in productivity.
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