Top Tools Needed For An Ergonomics Assessment

Have you ever wanted to do an ergonomics assessment but just haven’t been sure where to get started? Or maybe you have an upcoming ergonomics assessment booked and you are not too certain what will be involved with it. This post is for you; ergonomicsHelp loves to peel away the layers of what is involved with ergonomics assessments to show you how do-able they really are. In this post, I share the top 6 tools that I have found to be incredibly useful whenever I have done an office ergonomics assessment. Interested? Check out the list below!

6 of the Top Tools You Need For An Ergonomics Assessment

1. Assessment Tool

There are basically 2 choices for whenever you complete an ergonomics assessment – either using an ergonomics assessment tool or ‘free-handing’ the assessment (not using the tool). To be honest, most beginners or novice assessors will likely gravitate towards using an ergonomics tool, whereas those with more experience may want to free-hand it. Be aware that using a tool standardizes the ergonomic assessment and this can be timely either during each consultation or with any future requirements. If you are looking for an office assessment tool, there are many options out there, which can make it a little daunting. After all, you want to ensure that you have picked the best tool to fit your needs. Many organizations (specifically universities and colleges) offer a type of self-directed assessment tool, designed to help their staff so this may not fit all types of situations, especially if you are assessing someone else’s ergonomic risk. 

Ideally, any tool you select should address at least one ergonomic risk factor: force, posture, or repetition. I find that the posture based tools in the office are the most useful. Need a refresher on what each of these risk factors mean? Here is a quick reference of each below:

  • Force: The human body must always exert some kind of force to move or manipulate an object, or perform a task. However, if the amount of force is too much for the tissues to handle it can cause damage. Muscle damage occurs in two ways:
    • From one single event that requires muscles to generate a very high force level; or
    • From repeated or prolonged mid-to-high level exertions that may also be performed in awkward positioning.
  • Posture: An awkward posture is defined by its deviation from neutral or optimal positions. Simply put, work is easier with more neutral postures. And, the greater deviated (flexed, extended, etc) that postures are from that neutral posture, the more risk that is introduced to the user. A neutral posture for most joints is near the middle of the full range of motion. Inherently, we all know that this is true. Take for instance trying to resist a force against your wrist; first with straight alignment of the wrist to the forearm, then with an awkward (bent/flexed wrist) posture. It takes a lot less effort to withstand that force with a straight/neutral wrist because it allows the muscles to function within their optimal range. Conversely, to withstand that force with a bent wrist will require a lot more effort and force. What all this means is that the more awkward a posture, the more that body area is exposed to ergonomic risk.
  • Repetition: High repetition is a risk factor related to work activities performed quickly and repeatedly. These require greater muscle effort to complete, and a consequence of highly repetitive work is that more rest and recovery is required for tissues to get back to within a normal or safe capacity.

Another key tip is to address the user’s risky postures when they are working normally. The tendency is for people to work in their ‘best’ working posture whenever they are being watched. For this reason, one of the first things I always tell people is to pretend I’m not here and work normally. It usually works!  

2. Discomfort Survey

If you ever needed to complete more than one office ergonomics assessment during a small window of time, then you might be interested in using a discomfort survey. A discomfort survey is a way to address the priority of needs among a group of people so you can make sure you get to the biggest ergonomic concerns first. I’ve found that this tool really adds a lot of time savings because it allows you to have a quick glimpse into the day-to-day habits of the user without needing to leave your workspace. If you are interested in using a discomfort survey you have 2 options: you can either develop your own based on some of the suggestions below, or use ours, which you can find in this post.

Discomfort surveys generally have the following content. These are just some  suggestions of some things that you may want to include:

  • Key descriptive information about the user including their main workday tasks:
    • Identifiers such as name, position, contact information, union (if available)
    • Typical work hours and break time per day; typical work duties
    • Handedness
    • Whether a laptop is used for primary work tasks
    • Input method percentage: mouse vs. letter keys vs number keys
    • Whether corrective lenses are needed for computer work
    • Typical amount of time sitting before standing (or vice versa for a standing workstation)
  • An anatomical drawing to identify discomfort (severity/frequency of pain) by rating their level of discomfort for each body region with a likert-type point scale.
    • It can include questions such as:
      • A list of areas of concern or discomfort can also be used instead of or in addition to the anatomical drawing. The employee would simply rank body-part pain and tasks that are their biggest concern or cause the most discomfort (respectively).
      • Ideas for job improvements can also be solicited in the discomfort survey. Usually the employee can offer some valuable practical insights to improve their comfort level.
      • Information about pro-ergonomics behaviour such as knowledge of adjustments, break-taking behaviours, stretching, etc can be asked. This is valuable because it can strategize how to manage the ergonomics in large groups/departments.

3. Measuring Tape

It seems pretty basic, but a measuring tape can work wonders in taking the guessing game out of your ergonomic decisions. That’s why it is such a key tool. With this, you measure various heights and distances of the user, the equipment, and the interaction between the both and compare these measurements with what is considered to be a neutral posture and/or recommended ergonomic parameters. It works hand-in-hand with whatever ergonomics assessment tool you choose to use and some tools will have physical measurements built into its design. This is useful for 2 reasons. Firstly, using a measuring tape during assessments allows your to succinctly show the user the extent that they are away from (or within) a neutral posture. And in most cases, the more that the user is away from what is considered to be a neutral work position, the more extreme their discomfort symptoms usually are. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Secondly, a measuring tape is really useful for demonstrating the ergonomic need to upper level management when you need to recommend a certain (usually expensive) piece of ergonomic equipment.

4. Solid Root Cause Analysis

This is not technically a physical tool, but I’ve put it on this list because it’s an essential piece to any quality ergonomics assessment. By using a root cause analysis strategy after you take measurements and observe postures you can address what is actually leading to the user’s discomfort symptoms instead of just fixing the user’s symptoms. Ergonomic solutions to identified risk factors may have a lot of interrelated, moving parts, but there is usually one factor (sometimes more) that is the main cause of all of the user’s reported discomfort. This method is a lot bigger of a value add for the user because the reasons for their discomfort get addressed rather than just their symptoms, hopefully leading to greater relief!

Here is an example of how this can work. If the user is complaining of discomfort in their shoulders, then instead of recommending stretches (which is just focusing on their symptoms) to reduce discomfort, a root cause analysis would look at their workstation set-up and may find that the work surfaces (desk, keyboard, and mouse) are positioned too high, above their neutral elbow height. Possible solutions to this may include either lowering the work surface or raising the user in their chair (both are doing the same thing). Root cause analyses lead to a high level and targeted approach to ergonomics assessments.magnifying-glass-text-search_23-2147501697

5. Follow Up

Following-up with the user after an ergonomics assessment to ensure that the suggestions/fixes/recommendations meets their expectations and improves their comfort is also not a physical tool per se, but it is really valuable. With some assessments it will take some follow-up to ensure that the set-up is optimal for the user. This may include making particular adjustments in the chair to try to address back pain or ensuring that any new equipment that was ordered is set-up ergonomically, which I find is the most bang for your ergonomic buck! Sometimes the worst case scenario can happen which is instead of solving the ergonomic problem, a new one has developed out of the changes that were made during the assessment. This is just another reason why following-up with the user after the assessment is just so critical to your process!  

6. Extras: Sample Equipment

If you have the space, having some samples of popular equipment (different types of keyboards, mice, and/or chairs) on hand can streamline your ergonomics assessment process. Simply put it saves time both for you and the person who needs a new ergonomic product! Of course this may require a bit of an investment at first, but it is well worth it. Why? Well, even if a particular type of ergonomic product is identified that would reduce a user’s discomfort symptoms, there are still a variety of brands, types, or styles that the user can choose from. This can really throw a wrench into solving someone’s ergonomic problems because sometimes finding the ideal ergonomic product can take time and be a trial-and-error process, discouraging users from even starting in the first place. It can be a long and arduous process since items will need to be returned if they don’t work out and some users need to try several pieces of equipment to figure out what works. Even having just the bare minimum of popular items helps.

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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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