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Do you know where your employees are?

Ask any business owner or executive about the impacts of Healthcare costs on their business and you will get an EARFUL.  Healthcare accounts for 15.4% of payroll costs…and that percentage is increasing.  Today’s business enterprise spends significant time and resource energy on the aggressive management of that number.  Very little if any savings will come from that number (unless REAL healthcare reform happens; don’t hold your breath for it)…today the exercise is about holding the line.   Just keep treading water.

An unexplored SAVINGS opportunity does exist; it’s not as sexy or polarizing as healthcare costs BUT it can drive very real cost savings.  

Did you know that the total cost of unplanned employee work absences – not vacation or personal time – represents 9.2% of the average company’s payroll expense? (Source – Marsh Mercer 2008 online survey http://www.kronos.com/AbsenceAnonymous/)

Why?

Absences impact your business in three ways:

  • Direct costs for the benefits or wages paid to employees while absent,
  • Indirect costs for lost productivity or the replacement worker expenses to “cover”
    absences and minimize loss of productivity, and
  • Administrative expenses, whether due to internal staffing and overhead, or to vendor
    services.

The impact on Productivity is even more alarming:

Absenteeism or “Incidental unplanned absences” result in the highest net loss of productivity per day (i.e., missed or postponed work not being covered by others): 21%versus 15% for planned absences and 17% for extended absences.

Absenteeism is a MANAGEABLE cost driver and a sound Ergonomics strategy can help.

How?

Trapped in that 9.2% number are unreported employee pain and discomfort issues.    In many cases, ERGONOMIC workplace issues are the cause of this pain and discomfort.  A recent study from Spain estimates that > 6.4 million people take an unplanned absence each week citing muscular-skeletal problems as the reason.  Out of these, 40.9 per cent of the work force experiencing lower back pain, 40 per cent with neck pain, and 22.9 per cent with upper back pain.

Poor environmental and task design within the work environment drives this pain and discomfort.   ERGONOMICS can help. 

Do you have an in-house program that documents absenteeism drivers?   Probably not.   Our ERGOLAB team works with business leadership to build a proactive approach to absenteeism through;

  • Employee pain and discomfort surveying,
  • Task assessment and redesign consulting and
  • Ergonomics education and training

Interested ?  We’d love to hear from you – fpisano@ergonomicedge.com or 401 529 8398

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Our ERGOLAB team spends a lot of time working in office environments; the day man met PC was a glorious one for workplace accountability – nothing like a digital trail to keep things on the up and up….not so great for the human body.  Why?  As work tasks became more and more automated, our work days became more sedentary. 

Our body was not designed to sit for 8 hours a day; we’re all familiar with the Ergonomics axiom, “the best body posture (position) is the NEXT body posture (position).  Our bodies were designed to hunting, gathering, foraging for food, and sometimes running away VERY quickly when WE became the potential ‘food’ (…and NO, battling the crowds at your local farmer’s market does not qualify as ‘foraging’).   We need movement, we need a variety of position and posture to maintain good body health and flexibility. 

In the past, corporate Health & Safety leadership often overlooked the needs and risks within their office environments; cubicle dwellers don’t use pneumatic equipment, drive a forktruck or work with hazardous materials. Accidents and injuries occurred in other places in the enterprise, except the occasional slip, trip or fall, the office harbored few (or so they thought) risks.  Now, with 20+ years of data  and learning behind us, we understand the very real and very expensive risks associated with unmanaged office ergonomics.  With the average cost of ONE musculoskeletal disorder averaging $25,000 in direct costs and 5 to 8 times that number in indirect costs…a passive approach to office ergonomics is NOT good business. 

Still…old myths and misconceptions in Office Ergonomics die hard. 

Misconception #1

The right chair will solve ALL your problems.  WRONG!   A personal pet peeve and a myth that must DIE (and remember, we SELL ergonomic chairs and tools at www.ergonomicedge.com ).  The office chair, while very important, is one element within an INTEGRATED Ergonomic solution.  Office system manufacturers spend millions to reinforce the belief that a chair (more importantly, their chair) is the answer.  There is no magic chair. Or for that matter keyboard tray, mouse, docking station or document holder.  Products are tools our ERGOLAB Ergonomists use, case by case, client by client, to build an Ergonomic solution, properly designed, personally adjusted, with adequate employee education and product training (you’d be amazed how many companies have NO IDEA how their existing chairs adjust…).  At ERGOLAB, we lead with Ergonomic guidance first…products are a very very distant second.  

Misconception #2

Repetitive Motion is the #1 cause of ergonomic injury.   WRONG!    Yes, repetitive ‘Out-of-Neutral’ motions can and do cause injuries. An example would be anyone who works on spreadsheets for long periods of their day; these folks do A LOT of cutting and pasting within the spreadsheets.  Over the long term, overuse can lead to pain, discomfort and injury.   What surprises most corporate Health & Safety Managers, is that STATIC  “Out-of-Neutral” body postures cause far more injuries….we are a generation of leaners and reachers.   Sitting in a chair for hours at a stretch invites poor postures; next time you are in a lengthy meeting, check out the body positions of everyone around you…..leaning, slouching, etc.  All positions that put extreme stress and pressure on our bodies.   

This underscores the value of careful, thoughtful office design; the cubicle footprint is often driven by ECONOMIC imperatives, rather than ERGONOMIC imperatives.  Think  adjustability of worksurfaces, up/down, in/out.  Make sure all employee tools fall within the REACH ENVELOPE…don’t ask an employee to reach and lean to talk on the phone or lean forward to view a monitor.    

Misconception #3

Office Ergonomics is a ‘hard sell’ in these tough economic times.   WRONG!   Now is precisely the time to integrate Office Ergonomics into your Health & Safety plans for your next fiscal year.  Let’s face it, everyone is working with reduced headcount. This means your current work staff needs to do more…..MUCH MORE….with less.  You need these employees to stay healthy and productive.  Beyond this, Worker’s Compensation costs are soaring…a proactive Ergonomics approach is about preempting injury. Fewer injuries, fewer claims, lower PREMIUMS.   In tough economic times, you can’t afford NOT to invest in Office Ergonomics. 

Misconception #4

Every employee needs the same Ergonomic tools.  WRONG!      Ergonomic solutions are personal; an employees height and body size, health conditions, work functions and personal habits all contribute to and inform an Ergonomic solution.   A good starting place for 90% of the employee population is an adjustable Ergonomic chair and quality adjustable keyboard – but REMEMBER – the workstation MUST be designed with the employee’s idiosyncratic needs in mind. As before, an Ergonomic solution. There is no one size fits all.

 Need some guidance in creating and implementing an Ergonomics program for your business?   Give us a call – 401-527-7047, or email me at cdavis@ergonomicedge.com.

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Well….the cat is out of the bag.  All this time, American business has been worried about a new attempt by OSHA to create an Ergonomic specific regulation.  Business organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce and others were lining up resources for another fight.  Well folks….it looks like the ‘war’ was won without a single shot.   Hidden in plain sight, is all the regulatory muscle OSHA needs; the general duty clause.

WHAT?  Yes it’s true. During an April 7th web chat, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab stressed that OSHA’s enforcement of ergonomic issues is a key strategic component, and will increase, noting that the general duty clause will be used to cite ergonomic violations.   THE GENERAL DUTY CLAUSE.  It’s not sexy or flashy….but this approach and regulation has teeth.  

The General Duty Clause of the United States Occupational Safety and Health Act (Federal OSHA) states:

29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(a)1: Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(a)2: Each employer shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this act.

29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(b): Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

Couple the above general duty clause with the new column in the OSHA 300 log capturing Musculoskeletal Disorders in the workplace, and you can begin to see why an Ergonomic specific regulation might not be necessary!

Assistant Secretary for OSHA Dr. David Michaels commented that,

OSHA’s field staff will be looking for ergonomic hazards in their inspections and we will be providing them with the support and back-up they need to enforce under the general duty clause. In addition, we will be examining employer logs to see if MSDs are accurately reported,” illustrating the increased emphasis on recordkeeping logs, during OSHA inspections. Michaels stated that OSHA plans to “take a hard look” at employer policies that discourage injury reporting.

You have to give OSHA leadership their ‘props’…the approach is an intelligent, common-sense approach.  No big expensive fight.  Apply the regs that are there….end of story.  

What are your thoughts on OSHA’s new tact????  Agree or disagree??

If you’d like to discuss, feel free to email me at cdavis@ergonomicedge.com or 401.527.7047.

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Great research from the Gartner Group!  Gartner has been tracking the acceptance and use of new technologies; in particular, the acceptance of newer touchscreen technology.    What was once the fantasy of the Star Trek and Star Wars generations (I am a Star Wars kid – Star Trek was already in re-runs – REALLY)  is now reality; Kindle, iPod, iPhone, iPad…the list goes on and on. 

Touchscreen is a game-changer that increases user productivity.    What’s surprising, is the slow adoption of BUSINESS to adopt the new technology.  According to Gartner,  

The immediate productivity gains promised by the flood of touch-enabled devices coming to market in 2010 will be slow to materialize in the enterprise.

For more on the Gartner research follow this link –  http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1336913

I asked our ERGOLAB team about the growing touchscreen use; some food for thought about the Ergonomic implications;

  • Parents should continue to proactively manage their children’s use of ALL technology, regardless of interface (keyboard, mouse or touchscreen).   The inherent risk of long-term use of computing or gaming tools are about body postures while using ANY technology.  Out-of-neutral body postures over time contribute to pain, discomfort and eventual injury.  Parents, for more guidance on your kids and avoiding Ergonomic issues – check out our blog post   http://bit.ly/ERGOLABKids
  • Any touchscreen requires the user to sit within arm’s reach of the device.  Simply replacing a traditional computer monitor with a touch-enabled screen is not acceptable.  In most cases, this new screen will be outside of the acceptable ‘Reach envelope’. What is the Reach Envelope?

The following tool (image provided by John Wick of J&J Consulting)  is used to layout and organize seated workstations to ensure that there are no extreme posture requirements and to ensure that the individual is primarily assuming neutral working postures.

The point of operation should be within the primary zone (within 14”) “where the hands do the work”.  The location of tools (phone books, files, stapler, phone, calculator, etc.) can cause extreme ranges of motion in the wrist, elbows, shoulders and back and should be placed within the secondary zone in order to eliminate extreme positions (within 24”) of the individual and laterally 45 degrees from the shoulder (figure 1) (1). This criterion is based on anthropometric data representing 90% of the population.  Those either under 4’11” or over 6’2” may need further accommodations.

  • Most of the new touch-enabled tools are mobile, hand held devices.   Our recent blog posts on the Apple iPad scratch the surface of the Ergonomic issues related to this new category of touch-enabled tools. 

The Apple iPad has all the Ergonomic challenges associated with the laptop AND takes another step in the WRONG DIRECTION.  Typing on the iPad touchscreen while the iPad rests on a flat surface will force the neck into more extreme static neck flexion or extension depending on the users posture. Eye strain is also a risk.  TRANSLATED – typing on the iPad for any stretch of time will create neck pain, possible eye strain and could cause injury. 

The ability to attach a keyboard to the iPad (the iPad Dock) was a good move by Apple; but no consideration was given into the lack of adjustability of the height of the screen once it is attached to the iPad Dock. This was a missed opportunity by Apple to address head-on the Ergonomic issues related to laptop use (these issues are well-documented).  The ability to telescope the iPad up and down would allow the iPad to be adjusted to the proper height for the user, ensuring neutral neck postures and subsequently, comfortable viewing.

What are your thoughts on touchscreen technology and the Ergonomic implications?  We’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to connect directly on this blog post or any Ergonomic issue, I can be reached by phone 401.527.7047 or e-mail cdavis@ergonomicedge.com.

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Who among us hasn’t had a parent tell us at one time or another to do something…”because I said so“.  No logic or rational argument. No Oprah moment of sharing and DIALOGUE with the conclusion being a collaborative solution where both parties feel respected and validated.  NOPE.  Because I said so is the conversational equivalent of the slammed door. It’s my way or the highway. 

Parents can get away with this tactic; the world is a fast-moving complex place. Sometimes ‘dialogue’ is a nice-to-have and immediate, bottom-line results are the must have.   We all understand why this happens; I am sure some of us have used the ‘because I said so’ go-to technique in a pinch….it gets results. 

In the workplace, the ‘because I said so’ technique evolved into the Command & Control style of management. This philosophy is about strong centralized leadership aggressively leading and micro-managing all aspects of the employees working existence.   This approach has fallen out of favor (thankfully) and most managers will tell you that they take an Empowerment approach to management.  Set clear goals, provide your teams with the tools to reach those goals and GET OUT OF THE WAY. (with the exception of periodic reviews, employee driven).    As consultants, the ERGOLAB team is brought in to launch new programs with new ideas around Employee Health & Safety.  When we are brought in to launch a new Ergonomics program, we often find that the current management state-of-affairs falls well short of the Empowerment nirvana.  Employees are every company’s first level of customer; if they don’t believe in you, who will?

Successful Ergonomic programs start and end with employee trust, participation and support. Following are some ideas to ensuring success of your Ergonomic program efforts – be sure not to practice ‘because I said so Ergonomics’!

1. TRANSPARENCY

Utter transparency will deliver TRUST.  When launching a new Ergonomics program; be candid about the investment.  Tell them what you expect to gain from the program and how it might impact them and their jobs.  Change is scary, especially today, with concerns about job security and cost cutting.  A few weeks ago, the ERGOLAB team completed a Pain and Discomfort survey on behalf of a leading consumer products manufacturer. Our team was asked to map the existing pain and discomfort across a community of production employees, towards identifying work tasks that trigger or amplify employee pain.  What we were not prepared for, was the level of apprehension within the survey participants. Employees thought the data would drive future lay-off decisions; rather than workplace improvements that would improve the quality of their life. 

LESSON LEARNED – over communicate the launch of a new Ergonomics program.  Surface any issues and roadblocks prior to program launch.  Build a reputation internally for consistently communicating the unvarnished truth, no more, no less. 

2. COMMUNICATION

Just as you build ‘marketing communication campaigns to woo prospects, customers, shareholders and the press; so too should you build communication strategies that address the mind share and heart share of your employee communities.  How your employees FEEL about your company, your value proposition, your management practices factor into long-term success. At ERGOLAB, we integrate Communication and Education Planning into EVERY Ergonomic program. 

3. COLLABORATION

Involve and engage affected employees in the development and on-going management of Ergonomic programs. Don’t make the mistake of building the solutions OUTSIDE of the employee community. Your employees are closet to the work itself, who better to surface ideas and suggestions for process improvement?   What form can this participation take;

  • Create a company-wide Ergonomics committee with representation from all parts of the enterprise. Health & Safety leadership should chair committee, but an equal voice and vote should be afforded all committee members.
  • Task Evaluation and Redesign should always be driven by the hands-on employee teams.
  • Employees should participate in the brainstorming and program development of Communication & Education Plan.
  • Train the Trainer programs; transfer program knowledge to internal team members. Any message is more powerful and impactful when delivered by a departmental peer.

4. REWARDS / RECOGNITION

Recognize and reward employees for support of program; catch employees engaging in the ‘right’ actions and behaviors.  Showcase and merchandise these internal success stories within the Communication Plan – make the employees the heroes in all successes. Management MUST take a back seat.

  • Expand employee job descriptions and objectives to include adherence to and support of Ergonomic initiatives.
  • Identify expanded roles within departmental teams – ensure team members receive recognition (title and compensation) for this expanded role.

Avoid the pitfalls of ‘Because I said so’ Ergonomics; expanded employee involvement and investment will ensure program success and have immediate impact of your facility’s safety and bottom line.

Any questions on this, feel free to contact our ERGOLAB team. I can be reached at cdavis@ergonomicedge.com or via phone at 401.527.7047.

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Being a naturally curious person, I kicked around cyberspace, looking for guidance on blogging before I started this ERGOLAB blog. Who are the current thought leaders? Who is really using blogging and other social media, like Twitter, Facebook, Linked In for real business? Would a blog add to our customer’s experience with Ergonomic Edge (our products and consulting business) or would it be a distraction?

During my search, I surfaced the book, “Six Pixels of Separation” by Mitch Joel. I read the book cover to cover in one day, started the ERGOLAB blog, and never looked back. I recommend this book to anyone looking to understand the power of social media. The marketplace is changing, relationships, personal and professional, are being forged in new ways. Buy the book. Read the book.

SO…what does this have to do with Ergonomics? I track Mitch Joel’s Six Pixel blog daily (it is so worth the time); a recent post on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), chatting about new trends in electronics seemed innocent enough. AND THEN WHAM, the import of Mitch’s comments hit me like the proverbial TON OF BRICKS. Our business, ERGONOMICS is going to change dramatically, because our customers are changing.

Our practice crosses many industries; we work with corporate Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) leadership to find injury drivers within any company environment. Manufacturing, Material Handling & Warehousing, Laboratory…the most common environment is the OFFICE; that magical area of cubicles, copiers and filing cabinets. Where the work is typically heads-down computing, many hours sitting in an office chair typing, talking and writing. Our Ergonomic Edge practice works with clients to design office environments that are human-friendly; provide the support, flexibility and adjustability every worker needs to maintain good ergonomic health. We market and sell Ergonomic seating and accessories products that support this work, the train employees on proper use and adjustment.

So, what Six Pixel comment triggered my epiphany? Take a look…

Our homes (like our offices) are fully connected.

In fact, as more and more devices like the iPhone, BlackBerry, laptops and netbooks take hold, all of us are (or can be) connected all of the time (and yes, this includes our cars as well). Think about it: How many people still go to a physical location to sit down and “surf the Web” in their home or office, compared to the number of people that now have laptops with wireless connections who are online wherever they are? (read the whole post – http://www.twistimage.com/blog/archives/embracing-the-new-business-of-new-media/)

The office, as we know it, is vanishing before our eyes. If you can work anywhere, at any time with the new ‘connectedness’ and new mobile tools – why is your office necessary? Office space costs real money; tricking out the office space with cubicles, desks, chairs and tools adds even more costs. Mr Corporate Bean Counter is asking that question right now…do we need to have offices when our people can work in their homes, at the kitchen table, with little or no impact on productivity?

The office will go the way of the dinosaur, the mastodon and the XFL (remember the XFL…it was the NFL but edgier?).

So….as Ergonomists, we’ll have new challenges:

  • Our purview will extend into the HOME of our corporate client’s employees.
  • No longer will a large chunk of employees all be working within a predictable, standard office environment model – now, every home environment will be different.
  • Due diligence will increase at the worker level.
  • Customization time will increase at the worker level.
  • Old tools, Ergonomic products and accessories will need to be adapted (and some will not make the cut).
  • New tools, new Ergonomic products and accessories will be invented to support this new mobile workforce.

The real challenge.   When the corporate pendulum swings from one paradigm to the next, the shift tends to stop at the extreme. EHS leadership, Safety & Health consultants & Ergonomists must ensure the remote employee is adequately supported in their alternative work environments with tools and training. There will be costs associated with this support. The corporate bean counters will need this guidance. Tools, products and training, on some levels will still be  necessary.

I am interested in your POV on this topic.

Where do you think the ‘office’ is heading?   What kinds of tools will this new worker need?

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At ERGOLAB, we spend a lot of time with prospective clients, assisting them in building a business case for why Ergonomics must be included in their company’s  Health & Safety programs for the coming year.  The pitch takes data;  hard proof that Ergonomics delivers measurable, bottom line impact to an enterprise.  We include findings from our completed programs, as well as data from the Public sector resources; OSHA, NIOSH and academia.  Of these outside resources, no report is more meaningful and valuable than the Workplace Safety Index.    

For 10 years, Liberty Mutual, in partnership with the US Bureau of Labor & Statistics and the National Academy of Social Insurance have tracked the leading causes of workplace injury and the aggregated costs associated with those injuries.  The report, known as the 2009 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index or WSI, was made available this week. This year’s report captures injury data from calendar year 2007. The report deep dives the Top 10 injury categories, as these injuries are responsible for just over 86% of all costs associated with workplace injury.    

TOP 10 – Category / Cost / % of total    

  1. Overexertion – Injuries caused from  lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, or carrying a heavy object  – $12.7B, 24%
  2. Fall on same level – $7.7B, 14.6%
  3. Fall to lower level – $6.2B, 11%
  4. Bodily reaction – injuries from slips or trips without falling – $5.4B, 11.2%
  5. Struck by object – $4.7B, 9%
  6. Highway incident – $2.5B, 4.7%
  7. Caught In/ Compressed By – $2.1B, 3.9%
  8. Repetitive Motion – $2.0B, 3.8%
  9. Struck Against Object – $2.0B, 3.8%
  10. Assaults or Violent Acts – $0.6B, 1.1%

    

 What do these numbers tell us?    

ERGONOMICS IS MAKING AN IMPACT.    

Over the 10 year span of the research, Repetitive Motion injuries like carpal tunnel and tendonitis have declined by over 35%.  Proactive Ergonomic strategies, like task assessment and redesign, are making an impact.  In particular, the work done in improving working conditions in OFFICE ENVIRONMENTS has delivered results.  Office technology like computers, keyboards, and computer mice are more ergonomically designed, informed by years of Human Factors & Ergonomics research.  The office environment is better equipped to support the SEATED human body for longer periods of time; as an example, office chair design has leaped forward, providing improved support and adjustability.  Improvements in other tools like keyboards trays, task lighting and adjustable worksurfaces ensure neutral posture and reduce/eliminate extensions beyond the reach envelope.      

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT – ERGONOMICS CAN DO MORE    

OVEREXERTION driven injuries, from lifting, pushing, pulling an object have dropped by 5.7% over the ten year span of the study, some improvement, however more work needs to be done.  The human body is being asked to perform physical tasks BEYOND its abilities.  The bottom line, these work tasks must be identified, assessed and redesigned.     

In an earlier blog post we discussed the impact Patient Handling is having on Nursing / Healthcare Provider Safety.  Everyday, the American nurse lifts an average of 1.5 tons of weight.  The result; injury and lost productivity.  This is one example of many existing in US business today.  Ergonomic task assessment and redesign is essential; the cost to the US economy is staggering; $24B in direct costs.      

COSTS CONTINUE TO RISE.

Even as the number and severity of workplace injuries decline (or stay flat). Costs continue to increase.  Over the ten year span of the study (1998 to 2007), costs  increased between 5.4% to 5.8%  year to year on average.   Not surprising, as healthcare costs everywhere are spiralling out of control.  This cost escalation only reinforces the need to continue to focus on injury reduction and elimination.  Of course, Ergonomics can and will play a role in this activity.       

Are there work tasks within your business that you’d like to discuss?  We’re here to help.    

For a closer look at the WSI, use the following link – http://bit.ly/8513J9    

 

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