I’m going to share a strategy that I have used in the past to develop ‘injury prevention’ mindsets for in-house ergonomics programs. It’s all about how to find ergonomic risk in the office.
Injury prevention is where in-house ergonomics programs shine compared to exclusively relying on consultants for ergonomics support. This is because in-house programs have direct knowledge of how the workplace runs, connections with key contacts to get things done, and the person managing the ergonomics program already is there for their full-time gig. The majority of workplaces will not have enough ergonomic volume or need to hire their own full-time ergonomist because there is simply not enough staff to keep a full-time ergonomic support busy.
One of my last corporate gigs was managing the ergonomics program for a large organization and I had more than enough work to keep me busy. Most workplaces wouldn’t have this need – at least once the ergonomics program shifts into more of a maintenance phase. In-house ergonomics programs fill this gap and provide workplaces with immense value, which I will dive into more in this post.
Any ergonomics program worth their salt must have a prevention aspect to it.
The thing is if the focus of ergonomics programs is just on providing assessments once someone already has an injury or after major discomfort symptoms present themselves they are missing a lot of opportunity. This could cost a company a lot in both direct injury fees (such as Workers’ Compensation) and indirect fees (attracting and keeping the best people). Quality ergonomics programs use strategies and tactics to stop injuries from occurring in the first place with value-added prevention strategies. If your workplace already has started an in-house ergonomics program they probably understand that there is immense value in stopping injuries before they begin.
Personal Touch in Presentations and Training. Using an in-house approach to ergonomics means that whenever training sessions need to happen, you can share specific company policies. This adds a level of clarity about the resources available to staff. Typically when I share these workplace specific processes, staff are extremely engaged. Many times I hear ‘well I had no idea’ to a particular company policy or healthcare funding.
Here’s some of the specific items I would typically include during an in-house ergonomic training session:
- The internal process of what to do if staff feel like they have an injury developing or excessive discomfort (ie: who to contact, etc).
- Information related to any workplace funded healthcare programs like physiotherapy or chiropractic care that could influence staff to seek treatment.
- The process around the in-house ergonomics program (ie: how often can you get an assessment).
Why Prevention In Ergonomics Is So Valuable
The Business Perspective on Claims
If an injury occurs at work then a Worker’s Compensation claim is opened. Ideally workplaces interested in the best for both themselves and their staff should be working towards preventing workplace injuries from occurring in the first place. As they say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is due to the fact that workplace injuries are extremely costly. It’s obvious yet good to use as a reminder to keep on improving prevention efforts. The direct and indirect Workers’ Compensation costs can be HUGE. This is especially true if you have more than one expensive claim. In my experience, these types of claims can escalate because someone misses a lot of work because of the (compensable) injury plus it usually is paired with some sort of medical intervention, which adds even more cost and time away from the workplace. Let’s look at a specific example – a carpal tunnel injury. A study has found that one carpal tunnel syndrome claim can cost a workplace $12,000. In addition to expensive claims, depending on what jurisdiction your workplace is in (the rules are a little different in each) these claims will likely be on your company’s books for up to 4 years. Albeit you will be paying less and less for these claims over time but there is still a lingering effect that many workplaces don’t learn about until it’s too late. Prevention is everything!
The Personal Perspective on Claims
There is a cost of not doing anything with ergonomics – and for the individual that usually means pain. So, the best piece of advice that I share with individuals is that overlooking the importance of their workstation set-up may lead to lasting long-term negative effects on their body. If the pain develops into lasting discomfort or an injury then a Worker’s Compensation claim may be opened. Here’s the thing with claims: the amount of money that the individual ‘may’ receive from opening a Worker’s Compensation claim will never cover the entire impact of a chronic injury for the rest of that person’s life. Think about it – due to an office injury, lifting your kids/grandkids above your head may be nearly impossible. There are almost endless examples of how a chronic injury can negatively impact a person’s life. From time to time we all can take these things for granted, but surely a chronic injury really gives you a sense of clarity of what is important in your life.
I’d like this to motivate (not to scare) individuals in my training presentations. As a solution to this I usually suggest a simple ‘ergonomics’ check every time they return to their workstation (investing their time) and being aware of the warning signs of injury (such as soreness) as this can have a big impact on preventing injuries from occurring in the first place (the outcome of years of conscientious practice).
But, how can you identify those people who have the beginning stages of injury?
There’s many ways to add prevention into your in-house ergonomics program. I’ll be sharing one of the ways I efficiently generated prevention leads in a large department. It combines a couple of different tactics during the same deliverable so you can get the best use out of your time.
Here is just a quick snapshot of the key takeaways of the process:
- You give value (ergonomics training presentation with tips people can put into place immediately).
- Immediately after the training do quick follow-ups (check everyone’s set-up).
- Then you identify those who need extra attention and contact them for a more thorough ergonomics assessment.
I’ve used this approach many times to address large groups of people in a fairly short amount of time. It’s a deliverable that combines two things: the ergonomics training presentation and quick ergonomics reviews. If we are talking total duration then about half of the time I have for the entire deliverable (let’s say 30 minutes) would be for the training, the other half for the the quick ergonomics reviews (3-5 minutes/workstation is what I aimed for). The timing really does depend on the scope of what you are trying to do and how many people are in your training presentation! This research found that effective instructor-directed ergonomic training can enhance workstation practices, lower musculoskeletal risks, reduce complaints and stress, and improve well-being.
Typically I would include these topics in the ergonomics training:
- Understanding the relationship between office ergonomics and the development of musculoskeletal discomforts
- Ergonomics improvements and adjustments of workstations
- Importance of pacing and other work behaviours
- Question and answer session with staff
After the training, the expectation is that attendees would set-up and adjust their workstations according to the key points from that training session. After they have done this I would do a quick follow-up with each attendee but I would merely be double checking to see if their set-up is neutral/within normal parameters. If there are any warning signs or if that person needs A LOT of help with their set-up then I would be looking to schedule a time for a more thorough ergonomic review. This is where the opportunity for prevention is.
Using Eagle-Eyed Focus
Here is another really great thing that happens from using this approach. So, like I said after you share a ‘Coles notes’ version of ergonomics, you then go to each attendee and do a quick and simple overview of their workstation. A personal tip: it’s always a good idea to remind the person that these assessments are meant to be quick. Heck, I’ve been known to use a timer if I was under a really tight deadline – if I had other scheduled items on my agenda that day.
As I mentioned above, after the presentation the expectation is that people will take the simple adjustment strategy and apply it to their workstation AFTER the training presentation. I would be coming by afterwards just to make sure that no one MISSED the mark entirely. If anyone had missed their mark, it would be a key indication that this person needs more time and a thorough ergonomics assessment. I would inform them about getting the Discomfort Survey. I recommend that Discomfort Surveys are the main staple for in-house ergonomic programs. For more information why you can check out this entire post that I have done here.
Following up with the attendees progress will give you a clue of the ‘severity of need’ for a particular department. Based on the number of the people in the area and their level of need (the severity of their discomfort), it’s a big valuable tool that can direct your time for the prevention of injuries in the office.
I recommend that people do not just focus on one type of referral for your in-house ergonomics program.
Instead here is a quick list of how to generate referrals for your ergonomic prevention process:
- Training Presentation
- Training Presentation + Check (what today’s post was all about!)
- Return-to-Work consults
- Discomfort Survey received
- Injury occurs
- Information from supervisors/managers – for instance Rick from marketing has a sore shoulder and I’m not sure that he has had the chance to contact you yet…
- New hires or relocations
This is a really simple strategy that can add some insights and make more people aware of the in-house ergonomics program.