“That? Oh we’ll deal with that when we have to.”
Unfortunately, this is the attitude many businesses take with workplace ergonomics. It’s certainly understandable; after all, many business budgets have clear priorities. And it often doesn’t feel like there’s room for initiatives that won’t have clear, immediate, and big payoffs.
But risk management — and that’s what ergonomics is at its core — should be a big deal to all companies. As we detailed in our series last year, The Economics of Workplace Ergonomics, the costs of dealing with ergonomic problems after they develop are far higher than the initial investment involved in preventing those problems from developing in the first place. Workers compensation claims, OSHA fines, and increased health insurance premiums can all be counted among them. And that’s not even counting the intangible costs. For example, like lost productivity due to absenteeism. Or the lack of creativity that occurs when an employee is working through pain. Possibly even the cost of training a new employee when a veteran leaves to deal with their aches and pains in a more supportive environment.
And the economic case for workplace ergonomics is even stronger than that. Because when you consider how negligible any upfront investments in ergonomic equipment and training truly are. Overall, it just makes sense to swap the “putting out fires” mentality for one that values preventing those fires from breaking out in the first place. Here are few more ways that adopting a preventative mentality will be great for your organization. Also coupled with tips for making this shift happen happen.
The Hows and Whys of Preventative Workplace Ergonomics
1. Look for Categories of Big Solutions
With so many potential problem areas to address, beginning an ergonomics program can be overwhelming to anyone who doesn’t have the word “ergonomist” in their title. But the truth is, most employees can be helped with simple fixes to common problem areas in the workplace.
The chair, footrest (or lack thereof), monitor height, and input devices, for instance, are great places to start. Fixes to these will have wide payoff for a large number of employees. For instance, given our typing-centric culture, many employees will benefit from a split keyboard.This will gently guide them into a neutral wrist position, rather than splaying their hands outwards. Though low-cost, this intervention will have a big impact in the long term. It will dramatically decrease the likelihood that these employees will develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
Interventions like these can help mitigate problems once they arise. They will however be most effective when unrolled before a single employee complains of wrist pain. If you have a limited budget for ergonomics, or you simply want to make sure you’re getting your ROI. It makes sense to start with the issues you know are common across many employees, so that you can mitigate the biggest risks first.
2. Use Your Expert In Workplace Ergonomics To Help Wisely
If 95 to 97% of employees can be helped with a set of common solutions, it follows that the remaining 3 to 5% of employees will benefit from more intensive, highly customized solutions. Then direct any outside or internal attention from an ergonomist towards these higher risk cases first, as these cases are likely to be even more costly than, say, a run of the mill carpal tunnel problem. By allowing your experts to focus here first rather than distracting their efforts with too many small issues, you’ll get big ROI, and you’ll also enable your expert to settle their interventions more quickly before moving on to tweak more general solutions.
3. Train, Train, Train
No ergonomic intervention will be worth the investment unless employees are actually using those interventions correctly. If they’re not, they’re just as likely to injure themselves as they are on non-ergonomic equipment. As such, it’s important to develop a proactive mentality not only with the interventions themselves, but also in training employees to use them correctly. Assume they don’t know how, provide the help they need, and encourage your team members to check in with each other for support and advice.
4. Measure Results as You Go
To really ensure that your interventions are the right ones, it doesn’t make sense to have a “set it and forget it” mentality. Instead, designate a few metrics, like employee pain rankings, or the number of emails an employee can send in an hour, so that you can see how well your interventions are working and what they’re doing for your bottom line. When you find an intervention isn’t performing as you would have hoped, it’s time to get proactive all over again. Analyze the issues, determine a new course, and redirect course, so that you can prevent further issues from developing despite your best intentions.
When it comes to ergonomics, health, and wellness, prevention really is key. Getting proactive with your workplace ergonomics will ensure you’re stopping small problems from developing into big, costly ones, and getting the most out of every project and initiative. Where will you start? Let us know in the blog comments!