This post is about an aspect of office ergonomics that tends to get overlooked. Not because it’s not effective, but because there are ‘more’ fun and shiny things that take away our attention such as identifying ergonomic risk and discomfort in the office or bringing in state-of-the-art ergonomic equipment. Side note: we have done a lot of work in these typically ‘more’ fun posts, so take a second to look through our website! In this post we are talking about the systems behind many office ergonomics programs, with simple strategies that you can implement TODAY no matter how big or small your organization is. The system that I’m hinting at is a simple continuous improvement process, the Plan, Do, Check, and Act (PDCA) methodology. Some of these suggestions will be able to be effortless applied to your organization’s ergonomic process while others may need some planning.
Why The PDCA Method Is An Awesome Addition To Your Ergonomic Program
Let’s Start With The Basics
The best way to really see how your ergonomics process works is to literally map out everything that is involved in your program into a flowchart-like diagram. I’ve done this before and it’s an extremely useful exercise that highlights any gaps that may need your attention immediately. Make sure to include all of the steps and decisions that are mandatory, and any documents and tools (like assessment tools) that your ergonomics process requires to run smoothly. Some holes that may appear could be that office staff find it confusing to find out what the results of their assessment is, who to contact about purchasing recommended equipment, or even how to contact you for an ergonomics assessment in the first place. This can lead to a lot of wasted time on your end as frequent ‘one-offs’ cause you to constantly re-invent the wheel, so to speak. Using this approach makes sure that you make the best of your time. That’s where a thoughtful and thorough ergonomics system comes into play. Let’s go over what all this means. There are 4 steps to this system: Plan, Do, Check, and Act. Check out our info-graphic below to see a quick definition to what I’m talking about.
1. The ‘Plan’
The ‘Plan’ sets the foundation to your office ergonomics program. To put bluntly, the Plan is essential! You set-up your ergonomics process with its goals, objectives, and targets on a macro-level. And, on a micro-level you can include things that you want to measure, the ergonomic assessment tools that you want to use, and any sort of personal/positional responsibility that you think are worth documenting for future reference and ease. When I’ve set this up before, these are just some of the questions that I have found to be quite useful to consider when developing your plan:
- How do you identify areas that could be underserved?
- Is there are standardized on-boarding process for new hires?
- How do people contact you to let you know that they need an ergonomics assessment? Is there a form (like a discomfort survey) that everyone must use to get an ergonomics assessment? Or, is it better to contact you through their supervisor? What happens if someone is returning to work after either a work or non-work injury?
- How often (annually, every 2-3 years) are people required to have an ergonomics assessment? Can this be mediated by other means such as presentations, email campaigns, or a hybrid of all? What happens if someone moves to a new workstation within the same organization?
- What part of your organization does the ergonomics program/process reside in? Possible answers include Health and Safety, Human Resources, Engineering or Rehabilitation Units. Each of these obviously has its own pros and cons associated with it.
2. The ‘Do’
This is the fun part of the process in my humble opinion! The ‘Do’ is what many think of when you say ‘office ergonomics’, where you identify and quantify a person’s ergonomic risk. Alternatively, this can really include any aspect of delivering ergonomics within your organization. It could include one-on-one ergonomics coaching, the ‘typical’ ergonomics assessment (where you use an ergonomics assessment tool to determine their ergonomic risk), presentations, email campaigns, or even posters. The sky is your limit when it comes to creativity in this part. The key part of this step is identifying the ergonomic risk and then eliminating/controlling it.
3. The ‘Check’
Whereas the ‘Do’ looks at identifying and controlling ergonomic risk, the ‘Check’ evaluates the ergonomics process. This is done by monitoring and measuring ergonomic fixes to ensure that the recommendation was appropriate for the identified risk. On a micro-level, following-up with the user after an ergonomics assessment ensures that the suggestions, fixes, and/or recommendations that you made meets their expectations and improves their comfort. With some assessments it will take more than one follow-up with a user to ensure that any adjustments that you made is optimal – in a sense for some people it may very well be a process of trial and error. This may include making particular adjustments to the chair to address back pain or ensuring that any new equipment that was ordered is set-up optimally. I find that this step offers a really big value in an ergonomic program that can be easily overlooked for time constraints. Why? Well, sometimes the worst case scenario can happen: instead of solving the ergonomic challenge, a new risk develops out of the changes that were made during the assessment. Lastly, the ‘Check’ includes more macro-view point aspects including program reviews, investigation, and analysis, also known as an internal audit of your ergonomics process. It’s a big value-add to see how your process stacks up against bigger picture items such as injury and/or cost reduction goals, areas of your organization served, and other system goals that you might have put into your plan.
4. The ‘Act’
In my experience, ergonomic solutions are often very replicable. What this means is that for the majority of people who work in offices their set-ups would be similar or almost similar. You might be thinking how could this be. Well, the majority of staff would be using the exact same type of equipment. This can be used to the advantage of your ergonomics process because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every assessment. This can also be applied to every ergonomic deliverable that you have.
For instance, once you have done the assessment, you have many options for standardization of the report. Ergonomic reports identify any risks during the assessment as well as any ergonomic recommendations that would help to reduce the ergonomic risk. Reports are considered to be the gold standard or final say on the employee’s ergonomic concerns at that particular point in time. The good news? It’s up to you how you choose to set it up. Ergonomic reports can either be short or long; a template with checkmarks or free-wheeled every time. Either way you choose to deliver the reports, standardization is always key to save you time and money!