Author: Stacy Stone
Ergonomics is the science of matching job tasks to workers’ capabilities. Through the principles of ergonomics, jobs can be redesigned and improved to be within reasonable limits of human capabilities. Ergonomic assessments are an objective study of how employees work. The assessments help identify the ergonomic risks such as repetitive tasks that can cause strains, improper work area setup, and improper use of tools, which can result in the development of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
We can break an ergonomic assessment down into 5 steps.
1. REVIEW EXISTING DATA
Step one to crafting or improving your ergonomics program involves taking a history. You need to establish a baseline understanding of work-related incidents and injuries that have already occurred. Review injury and illness logs, workers’ compensation reports, first aid logs, accident and near-miss investigation reports, insurance company reports, safety committee meeting minutes, and any worker reports of problems. This will allow you to identify common issues, injuries and complaints–and to zero in on high-risk departments or job types. This, in turn, will establish a data-driven benchmark that will be important for measuring success in the future.
2. GET A COMPLETE PICTURE OF YOUR FACILITY
If you want your ergonomics program to be successful, you need to have on-the-ground knowledge of the environment that employees are working in. Engage employees and get direct feedback. During an on-site visit, you’ll certainly need to hang back and observe workers in their natural habitats, but you should also take time to talk to them. Involving them in the process can lend you detailed, first-hand insights on how you can improve their work life, as well as strengthen your company’s safety culture.
3. GATHER OBJECTIVE DATA
Your organization will likely conduct initial and follow-up ergonomic assessments to measure progress and identify improvement opportunities. As a result, it’s important to establish a standard assessment method and set of tools so you can compare apples to apples and accurately identify risk factors. One tool to consider using is the OSHA Ergonomic Assessment Checklist. There are many tools out there, but you must find the one that best suits your organization.
Use the insights you’ve already collected to create a comprehensive, prioritized list of job tasks and departments that need to be evaluated. Then pair that list with your chosen methodology and tools to start your objective evaluation.
4. ASSESS ALL OF THE DATA COLLECTED
Now that you have collected both subjective and objective data, it’s time to take a step back and assess what you’ve learned so far. Is there injury risk at this job? What is the level of risk? How can the risk be reduced?
5. CRAFT A PLAN TO IMPLEMENT MITIGATION
Now that your analysis is complete, it’s time to put what you’ve learned into action. Bring your EHS team, safety committee, and/or operations management together and use your list to work out a strategy for addressing risks and mitigation opportunities. Some questions to consider during your discussion might include:
- What is our implementation timeline and is it realistic?
- How will we measure success at reducing risk?
- What training and resources are needed to implement, manage, and refine our ergonomics program?
- How will we communicate our plan and stay on track?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to workplace safety in lower-risk environments, but these steps will help you make a plan to reduce risk at your organization. Contact us for assistance with an ergonomics study!