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Posts Tagged ‘Workplace Safety’


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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Yesterday was a good day.  The ERGOLAB team is working with a leading luxury goods manufacturer and marketer to address high risk tasks within production facilities.  The program is moving forward nicely, our redesign is in test phase, solution validation is right around the corner.  Company A is thrilled with the outcome.  

The day BEFORE yesterday…that day wasn’t quite as good.  Similar work on behalf of a different ERGOLAB client continues to stall out, lose momentum and  focus.  This task redesign work lauched months before the above mentioned case study, yet we have little to show for it.  Company B is frustrated, and rightly so.   

At first blush, the clients are very similar; industry leaders, global brands, organizational commitment to Ergonomic practices.  So….why the difference?  Why is Company A so much further along that Company B?   

One word.  EMPOWERMENT.  

At Company A, the culture encourages and rewards employee ‘intrapreneurship’ (think entrepreneurship BUT inside a company structure, not out).  Have a new idea to streamline a process and improve productivity?  Pitch the idea to your up line manager.  Company A employees are expected to partner with management in the continuous improvement initiatives of the company.  As consultants, ERGOLAB gets to partner with client employees who are engaged and invested in the program and it’s outcomes.  There is nothing better than working within a client community of people with pride, enthusiasm, and passion for their work and workplace.   Empowered employees make us look good.  

Company B does not practice an Empowerment management philosophy.  Employee roles are narrowly defined.  Suggestions are accepted, but rarely acted upon.  The employees want to participate in making their workplace a better place, but the current management style doesn’t allow for that type of a role.  Driving positive change at Company B is a challenge; as our ERGOLAB methodologies require employee participation and collaboration in all phases of solution development and testing.   Our biggest hurdle is often MANAGEMENT; their need to control and edit employee involvement and access to ALL the information is a real roadblock. 

So…what about your company?   As an employer, have you created an environment that encourages employee empowerment?      

To paraphrase Lao Tzu in the Tao of Leadership; 

The leader is best… 

When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,  

The people say, ‘We did it ourselves.

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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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Our ERGOLAB team are big fans of the work coming from Liberty Mutual’s Occupational Safety and Health Research facility.     Their most recent edition of their quarterly newsletter, “From Research to Reality” drills down on the topic of Occupational Fatigue; the insights surfaced in their proprietary research are eye-opening.    

At ERGOLAB, our Ergonomists and Occupational Safety & Health Engineers are often asked to assess Health & Safety risks within production environments where operations are a 24/7/365 proposition; multiple work tasks across multiple shifts.   When analyzing OSHA recordable within a facility, time and again we would see the same data patterns; injury rates increase deeper into every 8 hour shift, and higher injury rates for PM versus AM shifts.  This research from Liberty Mutual VALIDATES these patterns AND takes the insights to the next logical step; developing schedule management tools that assist Production and Manufacturing leadership in building schedules that minimize and ideally eliminate all risk.   Liberty Mutual’s new scheduling software, SIRE, takes this learning into consideration in the build out of work schedules for multi-shift environments.  At the bottom of this post we’ll provide the links to the Liberty Mutual software application SIRE!

Some of the highlights from this research;

  • The risk of injury increases dramatically after the 8th hour of shift

  • Morning shift employees have the lowest risk of injury, or “Relative Risk”
  • Afternoon shift employee risk of injury increases 15% from Morning shift risk
  • Evening Shift employee risk of injury increases by 30% from Morning shift risk
  • An employees risk of injury increases as the time between rest breaks increases!   As an example, the risk of injury DOUBLES if the time between breaks is more than 91 minutes.
  • An employee who works successive DAILY shifts – daytime or nighttime – the risk increases day to day.  The following chart details the escalation

 

The impact of occupational fatigue is very real and will influence any Ergonomic consulting initiative; particularly within a production / multi-shift environment.   As Ergonomists, it is critical we understand the complexity of the equation, this will ensure we deliver high value consulting to our clients.

Link to Liberty Mutual Newsletter and SIRE software solution; http://bit.ly/ERGOLABFatigue

Any questions specific to this post, feel free to contact me at cdavis@ergonomicedge.com or 401.527.7047.

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Very quietly and with no fanfare or hoopla, OSHA enabled a new database search capability that permits you & I to see a high level view of the workplace accident and injury data of any US-based business.  The story was lost in the buzz about Apples’s new iPad, The State of the Union Address, and Super Bowl hype.   

Here is the link to the new database:  http://bit.ly/ERGOLABOSHA

Our ERGOLAB team was thrilled to see this information made public; our Ergonomic practice (www.ErgonomicEdge.com), is part of an Environmental Health & Safety firm (www.PisanoAssociates.com). Injury and accident results are the fundamental metrics we use to gauge Health & Safety program success.   These numbers are our report card.

So…you’re probably thinking, this data has been collected for years and search technology is nothing new. Why is OSHA making this data available and visible?  Why now?

1.0    (They promised) or  TRANSPARENCY is Good Politics

Throughout the presidential  primaries and general election, the Obama team positioned themselves as Washington outsiders, intent on driving CHANGE . No more business as usual.  The word transparency made its way into every stump speech. The promise, no more meetings behind closed doors, no more cloak and dagger.  The American public has the right to know what it’s government is doing; the Obama Presidency would be different.  

From the moment Labor Secretary Hilda Solis took over, OSHA has moved aggressively towards transparency;

“Making injury and illness information available to the public is part of OSHA’s response to the administration’s commitment to make government more transparent to the American people,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA.

  Politics or not, OSHA’s move is a good one.

2.0      ACCELERATE BUSINESS ACCOUNTABILITY

“You get what you inspect, not what you expect.” (quote source unknown)

A fundamental principle in the military, where a dropped assignment can translate into lost lives. Behavior is the function of its consequences.

In the regulatory world, the Environmental Protection Agency is high trump. When the EPA is mentioned to a business owner or executive, the response is action and urgency. Why?  The EPA’s inspection and enforcement arm is swift and punitive. Companies operating outside of regulatory compliance will pay dearly for that state. EPA non-compliance is a game changer, and businesses know it. The EPA gets what they inspect.

OSHA is taken less seriously; companies all across the country ‘whistle past the graveyard’ specific to workplace Safety & Health regulations.  OSHA’s inspection arm has historically been under-staffed and reactive.  The new administration has added inspectors and is working towards a proactive model, however that change will take time. 

So…why did OSHA give you searchable access to this data?

You have been deputized. OSHA has just deputized millions of citizen inspectors all across the country.  You can become the eyes and ears of OSHA.  What’s the first thing you’ll do?  Check out the track record of your employer, your spouses’ employer, the record of the company down the street.  

OSHA wants YOU to inspect for them, extend their reach. 

3.0      THE POWER OF PUBLIC PRESSURE

In the world of public pressure and scrutiny, there will be winners and there will be losers.

Company A and Company B both manufacture windshields and are located in the same small town. 

Company A has embraced workplace Health & Safety as a driving principle of their company. Company A employs Health & Safety professionals; program management is proactive and audited regularly. Company A employees participate in periodic training sessions, Safety is a part of their job responsibilities, they are bonused upon their contributions to a ‘Safer’ workplace. No surprise, Company A has a spotless accident and injury record.  The entire company takes pride in this performance.

Company B takes a more lax approach to Health & Safety. Program ownership resides in many different places in the business; no professional Health & Safety staff works at Company B. Company B’s employees don’t participate in regular Safety & Health training, the only communication they get are a few posters on the team room wall.   Company B addresses issues after there is a problem, their accident and injury record is very poor. 

SCENARIO

You are looking for a job – both companies have offered you a position.  Which offer will you accept? 

After researching the company, searching their accident and injury history, you select Company A.   Why?   Employees want to work for a company that values their health and well-being. 

SCENARIO

A corporate buyer, you are looking for a new supplier of windshields.  Which company will become your new supplier?

The buyer will also select Company A.  In business, the old axiom, ‘You are the company you keep’ applies.  A company’s supply chain is sacrosanct; Company B’s practices would reflect negatively on the corporate buyer’s organization. Why take that risk? 

Company’s in good standing will be rewarded for their work; companies with poor track records will lose employees and lose contracts.  OSHA is relying on public scrutiny and action to drive change.  OSHA won’t need thousands of new inspectors; they’ll let the market drive change.

We’d love to get your point-of-view on OSHA’s new approach. Drop us a line. 

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I was in a meeting with a new client last week.  “Linda” (not her real name), is the Director of Environmental Health & Safety for a growing biotech firm.   Our firm has been brought in to address a growing number of Repetitive Strain Injuries in the company’s lab facilities.  “Linda” shared her frustrations with the company’s past approach to Repetitive Motion injuries;

“We wait until something bad happens, until it’s too late to avoid injury and the costs associated with the injury. We practice Whack-a-Mole Ergonomics.  When an employee complains of pain…WHACK…only then can I get them support.   Another issue in a different part of the company, WHACK…again, band-aid the issue with a product or even bring in an Ergonomist to take a closer look at that employees issues.  We spend all our time WHACKING and reacting; we need to get ahead of the issues.” 

Linda’s Whack-a-Mole analogy describes the reality in most companies; expertise and instruction is brought in after pain &/or injury.  When the average direct cost of a Musculoskeletal injury is $25,000 (that excludes indirect costs that average 4 x that number based on OSHA data) – the cost of Whack-a-Mole Ergonomics can add up quickly.  A significant part of our Ergonomic practice is working with client’s to build a PROACTIVE Ergonomics program within their company.  Following is an Action Plan you can use today, to take control of Ergonomic issues in your company, and leave the Whack-a-Mole approach behind.  For a deeper discussion on how to implement this program you can email me at cdavis@ergonomicedge.com.

Proactive Approach to ERGONOMICS:

Action 1.0

Build a business case on the value of the PROACTIVE approach to Ergonomics.  Leverage the resources that are available from OSHA, NIOSH, National Bureau of Labor & Statistics and academia – Cornell, UCLA and others.  Using your company’s historical OSHA recordable data; build an air-tight case for why the proactive approach is better business. Focus on the bottom line impact.

Action 2.0

With your business case in hand – pitch Executive leadership and secure commitment to a long-term Ergonomic program.

Action 3.0

Ensure Ergonomics is integrated into your fiscal planning cycle; the program must be integrated into your Environmental Health & Safety strategy. The EHS community may also need to be sold on the approach; share your business case. 

Action 4.0

Identify Ergonomic consulting resource for support of activity (in most cases companies do not have resident expertise).  Potential partner should have deep experience in task assessment and redesign across all company environments (Manufacturing, Material Handling, Warehousing, Office, Laboratory, Field etc). In addition, review firm’s methodology, ensure actions measurable (as you will be asked to demonstrate program value at some point – be ready for this – put onus on consultant/partner). Talk with current and past clients. 

Action 5.0 – Getting Started

5.1 – Build a Communication Plan around the launch and ongoing merchandising of your Ergonomic program. Included in this plan – Introduction to Ergonomics training for all employees (baseline understanding and value of Ergonomics), Company Champions Program – identify internal Ergonomic program Champions by functional area.

5.2 – Launch program with company-wide Pain & Discomfort Survey. It’s purpose – isolate work environments, tasks and employee categories with injury markers. Outcome – map out high/medium/low risk tasks – permits company to prioritize and align investments

5.3 – Isolate high risk tasks for assessment & redesign – launch Ergonomics work…

Building support and positive momentum is central to getting in front of Ergonomic issues.  If you have any questions, we’re here to help!

Some valuable links to assist you in building your Ergonomics business case:

Puget Sound Human Factors & Ergonomics Society Chapter Cost Benefit Analysis Calculator  – http://bit.ly/PugetHFESCalc

Cornell Ergonomics ROI Calculator – http://bit.ly/CornellROI

OSHA eTools – Computer Workstations – http://bit.ly/OSHAeTools

NIOSH – http://bit.ly/NIOSHErgo

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