How to Scale Your Ergonomics Program

Today’s post is essential for those who manage a medium/large organization’s office ergonomic program but everyone can use it to add efficiencies to their daily tasks.

Why This Is Important.

In one of my past ergonomics positions, I managed the ergonomics program in a large organization. At the time I was working there, we had more than about 7,000 office staff and maybe about 2,ooo staff in more intense workload jobs (like a janitor, food service worker, or tradesperson). I was the only person in this organization who was responsible for ergonomics. Least be said that I was busy. Very busy. Being busy placed a high value on my daily efficiencies to find ways to save time without sacrificing service to staff. Overtime I found that there were two work processes that were consistently contributing to my major inefficiencies. These processes were:

  1. How clients first contacted me to arrange for an office consultation
  2. Helping clients find the perfect piece of ergonomic equipment, whether it be a keyboard, mouse, or chair.

Requesting an Ergonomics Consult

Just to reiterate, I think that those who manage ergonomics in a medium/large organization will likely get the most value from today’s post, but there are some tips included that will enhance everyone’s ergonomic process. Let’s first talk about how someone makes their first contact with ergonomic services. In your workplace, do you ever feel like everyone who requests an office ergonomics consult expects that you can make it out to see them the same day? I certainly did. And, when I was first in this position I certainly tried! With this system any staff would call or email me requesting an ergonomic consultation. Since staff only had one avenue to contact me without any sort of scale of priority it left it so everyone who contacted me had the same priority level, but in reality this was not the case. I needed a system to identify those who urgently needed an ergonomic consultation and leave a window in my day where I could see them. This way I could always prioritize someone who was showing major signs of discomfort/injury symptoms before someone with no injury symptoms wanting a preventative review of their workstation.

So, I began to streamline my ergonomic process by calling back or emailing clients to interview them about their discomfort and priority of need. As you can imagine this was still a major time sucker for me. Overtime, this eventually lead to the development of a pre-consultation staff survey. The thinking behind this was simple: it was a standard form available for all staff to complete prior to the ergonomic consult. To start the new system, some things needed to be in place. These were:

  • We needed to increase the awareness of the new process amongst staff
    • An email directed to all departmental management/supervisors was a great way to start the process
  • To encourage staff to use it, the pre-consultation staff survey was located in central and accessible places throughout the organization
    • The surveys were located both online (intranet, email broadcasts with the survey attached) and offline (bulletin boards, with management, safety chats, etc) to get attention from staff

A big surprise was when it was first put into place, the number of ergonomic requests actually significantly increased. Prior to this process, many staff had no idea that this service was available to them and as soon as it was getting some attention, its popularity exploded. I would really recommend this strategy to even those who don’t consistently receive ergonomics request as the time savings are major here. MAJOR.

What to Include in a Pre-Consultation Staff Survey 

There are many different types of consultation staff surveys. In fact, we include these surveys with our E-Consults. The really neat thing with these surveys is that you can fully build them to match the demographics of your workforce. This is what worked well for me in the past:

  • Some sort of identification, contact email, department etc
  • Documentation that the client has spoken with their supervisors
    • Where I worked, each department was responsible for their employee’s equipment
  • A broad description of the client’s daily tasks
    • This is valuable to in where to focus your ergonomics consultation
  • Personal characteristics
    • Can include the person’s handedness, if they wear glasses, and if they do what type, etc
  • If the client is experiencing discomfort, they can identify where exactly it is located
    • A picture of the front/back of a person is useful
    • If a picture is not possible, having client’s list discomfort body regions is fine
  • The severity of the discomfort for each body part that is notable
    • A ‘likert’ type scale (for example: 1-5 or 1-10 ratings) is useful to identify the severity
  • The frequency of the discomfort for each body part that is notable
    • Does the discomfort occur rarely, occasionally, frequently, or constantly?

Ergonomics Help

This survey allows you to do two things. First, this survey is like an interview; it saves you that time during the ergonomics consult. Second, information contained in this survey allows you to prioritize ergonomic consultations. This way, someone scoring 10/10 on the discomfort scale will get much faster service compared to someone with only a 1/10 rating.

Why Finding the Perfect Device Can Be So Time Consuming

Another one of my inefficiencies had to do with helping my clients sort out the trial-and-error process involved with finding the perfect device (keyboard/mouse) or chair. It could be difficult because the device needed to address the root cause of the person’s reported discomfort, but was also comfortable to use. This process was so inefficient because while I was helping clients find the perfect device, it was creating a bottleneck with completing ergonomic consults for new clients. Some clients requested that I visit their office multiple times to ensure compatibility between them and their device.

Finding just the right device is kind of like the story of Goldilocks and the 3 bears: Some users have to try several devices for them to know what is really comfortable for them.

Clients were also concerned of the hassle involved with the return process of any device that didn’t like. Some clients were hesitant to even try different devices because of this process. So, I needed a way to more effectively assist clients both from their perspective (hassle with returning equipment) and mine (multiple office visits). I had heard of other companies using Ergonomic Showrooms to serve their staff so, I looked into the process of how to have our own Ergonomics Showroom. I started by contacting local chair vendors and keyboard/mouse representatives to see if they would be interested in supplying us with a sample of their product. The following statistics really helped me when contacting vendors when I wanted them to supply an item:

  • Number of assessments I did in a month
  • An estimation of how many of clients, on a monthly basis, would benefit from a product like theirs
  • How many total staff worked at my organization, so they can get an idea of scope

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Unfortunately only a few keyboard/mouse vendors ever went for this. Personally, I think they lost out on a big opportunity! Fortunately chair manufacturers were generally quite eager to get their products in my organization. I then made a list of all the keyboards and mice that would be ideal to have in the Ergonomics Showroom. I wanted really unique and alternative types of ergonomic products. I approached Leadership, and since it was such a low cost relative to output, this project was (thankfully) easily approved. The outcome? Well, my clients were very pleased with having access to top notch ergonomics gear to try out. Overtime I found that my clients needed less and less assistance with finding the perfect device as there was so much less hassle involved with the process. They simply signed-out (2 weeks seemed to be ideal) any piece of equipment to try out.

Implementing the Ergonomic Showroom really streamlined the entire process. But it wasn’t perfect. I always had the biggest challenge in getting client’s to return items. I never was able to find a way to get the items back other than simply visiting their offices and picking them up.

Through the administration of countless assessments in both private and public sectors, Darcie has gained a wealth of knowledge and built a successful practice in the field of ergonomics. She has extensive expertise in conducting office ergonomics assessments in large scale workplaces for all different types of scenarios, from simple adjustments to incredibly complex cases. Darcie also has vast experience in delivering training presentations on the various aspects of ergonomics “best practices” in the workplace. Darcie is a Certified Professional Ergonomist through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, as recognized by the International Ergonomics Association. She also has a Masters of Science, specializing in ergonomics. A little known fact about Darcie is that she once scored from half, off a free kick, in a university varsity soccer (football) match!

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