In an earlier post we talked about some results of a participatory ergonomics process in an office setting. Most research available on participatory ergonomics focusses only on its implementation in an industrial setting, so it is very refreshing to see the positive and very much replicable results. Why use the participatory ergonomics approach in the first place? Well research has proven that participatory ergonomics can have a positive effect on:
- Reduction of reported symptoms and discomfort
- Reduction of ergonomic risks
- Cost-effective method to address ergonomics
- Improve employee engagement
Today we wanted to focus another post on participatory ergonomics in the office. This time, we wanted to share from our experience what works and what doesn’t. Why am I an expert? For 5 years I was responsible to develop, mentor, train, and support participatory ergonomics teams. There is a lot of value in this approach but it doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves! So today I want to get a little deeper with its set-up and implementation.
We are all looking at ways to enhance our organization’s health and safety programs. But let’s face it, we don’t have a lot of money available to do so. Participatory ergonomics is a valuable asset as its cost-scalable. For a single traditional ergonomics assessment, it can cost upwards of 500$ to 1,000$. Not to mention the time costs associated with it: the time to schedule the consultant to come in to assess the workstation and then to wait (sometimes up to one month) for the report. As the saying goes, time is money, and ergonomics in the traditional sense can be expensive at a high time-cost. Have I intrigued you with participatory ergonomics yet? Well I hope I have… Let’s go deeper.
Let’s start at the beginning. Participatory ergonomics is defined as training and developing an organization’s own employee’s in identifying ergonomic strategies and fixes to reduce ergonomic risk. Since the key to this approach is developing the skills within the organization instead of outsourcing, the cost per assessment (even factoring in the training time) would be significantly reduced! And, just to be clear, participatory ergonomics is not about focusing on developing ergonomics experts, rather its goal is to train participants in how to identify low hanging fruit ergonomic challenges and implement simple, yet effective changes to improve the workplace. For more complex situations, support from an ergonomics expert would be recommended to guide the organization in order to offer key insights for valuable and replicable strategies.
Still intrigued? Ok, great. Let’s move to some high-level perspectives on some of the outcomes of participatory ergonomic interventions:
- Ability to improve health outcomes and to reduce the number of lost-work days, the costs associated with workplace injuries and the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries
- Benefits beyond physical or health outcomes. Also can improve psychosocial factors in the workplace as well
- Enhances job satisfaction
- Enhances worker performance
- Enhances confidence and competency
- Employs a worker-centred approach
- Helps to facilitate or further develop a sense of community
- Assists with the return-to-work process
- Enhances safety culture
Does it sound too good to be true? Well it’s not all ‘sunshine and daisies’. Participatory ergonomics can sometimes be a challenging process to implement, depending on the organization. Here are some of the potential challenges that may undermine the results:
- Lack of a clear mandate
- Budget and time constraints
- Lack of management support
- Finding time to participate
- Perception of extra work for participants
- Conflicts with job duties
- Uninvolved workers becoming envious
- Lack of worker participation or interest
- Resistance to change
- Ineffective internal responsibility system
There are two ways to approach participatory office ergonomics. It’s all dependent on your organization and we can help guide you which approach would be best if you are interested! The first option would be to train and develop a small (6-12 staff) group of cross-functional skill set individuals. These people would be representatives of various departments throughout your organization, each with their own perspectives to draw on. This group would then be identified as the ‘ergonomics change team’ and would be responsible for evaluating ergonomic risk and identifying solutions for your organization. The second method represents a significantly different yet effective approach. Instead of training a select group of employees, this method is concerned with delivering ergonomics training to the majority of staff. Both systems has its pros and cons, however the way to determine what the best approach is should be based on the type of organization (for instance seasonal workers vs. full time staff) and culture (overall attitude of the organization)
We have more coming in PART 2!
More on the participatory ergonomics approach will be coming in Part 2. Like what you are reading? Be sure to let us know and SUBSCRIBE!