In one of my former positions, I was responsible to develop and support various participatory ergonomics teams. These teams were mostly in manufacturing, warehousing, and even hospitals; work that required a medium to high physical workload. We never had any implementations in the office environment, but quite frankly, it always surprised me that we never ventured into that territory because we received many requests. Have you heard of participatory ergonomics before? Its becoming more and more common in the workplace, my guess as both a cost-savings and employee engagement method.
Participatory ergonomics can be defined as the involvement of employees in planning and controlling their own work activities to a significant extent with sufficient knowledge and power in order to achieve the desirable goal.
Specifically with the office in mind, participatory ergonomics would make use of various participation methods and techniques to train employees on risk identification, assessment, and solution implementation.
Musculoskeletal injuries are extremely common in the office environment, especially in the upper extremities. Various studies have estimated that neck and shoulder pain to be upwards of 50% for females and 15% in males in the office. With the growing shift towards more sedentary computer work, this trend will likely increase! Not only do musculoskeletal injuries result in pain, but there is a direct relationship between these and time loss from work. We need far reaching and cost-effective solutions so that there is the opportunity for all to work safely and without pain. And, that’s where participatory ergonomic strategies can come into play. Here are some results of the positive effects of participatory office ergonomics programs:
- With the participatory office ergonomics approach, one study found that participants were able to effectively adjust their workstation to target problematic areas.
- In another study, when researchers assessed the participants progress, they found that the participants significantly reduced the ergonomic risk in their workstations after participatory ergonomic training.
In my experience, the vast majority of ergonomic concerns in the office are a result of simple adjustment strategies. Once staff are educated on the basic principles of ergonomic adjustments many develop what I like to call ‘ergonomic eyes’ (I know it sounds very alluring), where staff are both trained to identify and fix simple ergonomic challenges. An ergonomics leader is recommended to be involved to help with the process (if needed) and assist with the more complex cases, of course. Heck, we wouldn’t expect participants to be trained in all ergonomic scenarios in just a short training period, would we? It can take years and years to develop these skills! With participatory office ergonomics, we aren’t talking about ordering in expensive workstations or buying fancy pieces of equipment, we are talking about simply adjusting the workstations that they already have so they are able to work more ergonomically.
We think that there is a lot of value in this approach in targeting the ergonomics of the 21st century. Why? Because when participatory office ergonomic approaches are done correctly, the results can really positively impact the working environment. In the research study that this post is based on, over a one-year period there were fewer symptoms, less disability, and better disability/symptom levels. These are tremendous results because it suggests that using this approach was extremely effective!
How was this study so effective? Well, one of the most important concepts with the participatory ergonomics approach is to KEEP IT SIMPLE AND EASY TO IMPLEMENT. The ergonomics process should be replicable amongst those who are not ergonomic experts. In this specific strategy, a combination of training, checklists, and solutions were developed and implemented.
Personally, I think it is incredibly valuable for others to see what is involved in successful ergonomics programs. Here is what was included in the researchers 2-hour training presentation:
- Introduction to ergonomics and musculoskeletal injuries
- Adaptation of the work environment to avoid musculoskeletal injuries
- Implementation of exercises and relaxation programs to avoid musculoskeletal injuries
- Gaining risk assessment skills
We hope that this post has given you a new perspective that an ergonomics approach that doesn’t get a lot of attention but certainly packs in a lot of value for organizations, when done correctly. We’ve spent many years implementing participatory ergonomics strategies, so if you have any questions or are interested in a specifically designed program, feel free to contact us!
Baydur, H., Ergor, A., Eylui, D., Demiral, Y., Eylul, D., Akalm, E. & Eylul, D. (2016). Effects of participatory ergonomic intervention on the development of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders and disability in office employees using a computer. Journal of Occupational Health. For a free download of this article, you can check it out here: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/joh/advpub/0/advpub_16-0003-OA/_pdf