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August 13, 2018

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Ergonomic Injuries

Mitigating risk for the most common work-related injuries

Andrew Cheung, Product Marketing Specialist responsible for Cority’s Occupational Health, Industrial Hygiene, and Ergonomics solutions, discusses ergonomic injuries and provides some best practice advice on how to avoid some common pitfalls when managing them.

Andrew CheungNo best in class employee health program is complete without a solution for ergonomic injuries. They are the most common form of injury in the workplace and are responsible for 39% of all work-related ill health in Great Britain, according to Health and Safety Executive. Injuries force employees to be less productive and take time off work, which is costly for companies—ergonomics-related employee absence and sick days cost UK businesses £28 a year, according to a PWC report.

These injuries affect every employee across all industries, and they can be immediate or take decades to develop. If your company does not have an effective ergonomic program, your employees are at risk for injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, tennis elbow, among other issues.

Get productive with ergonomics

There are different programs and initiatives that can help your company keep employees healthy. You can hire ergonomic specialists to oversee programs, create an ergonomic department, conduct employee assessments and evaluations, train employees, offer online resources, provide equipment (i.e. sit/stand desks), and so forth. Ergonomic programs not only reduce fatigue but also make companies more profitable. As a real-world example, the Cornell University’s Human Factors and Ergonomic department studied how to reduce fatigue from using keyboards. In the study, employees received alerts that told them to take breaks, assume good posture, and stretch. The results? They reduced fatigue risk injuries without reducing keystroke rates, improved keying accuracy by 13%, enjoyed a 1% productivity increase, and recovered costs in three months.

Avoid the pitfalls of managing ergonomics

Do companies with ergonomic programs automatically experience fewer injuries? Not necessarily. Many struggle to overcome a variety of challenges with managing such programs. Below are some to avoid:

  • Inefficient assessments: One of the most important parts of an ergonomic program are employee assessments. These assessments can be cumbersome if staff members must travel to various locations to conduct them in person. This is not scalable and can often result in creating a backlog of employees waiting to receive support.
  • Burdened by employee requests: Staff workload is further increased when they receive employee requests for their personal data or general ergonomic information. This happens when organisations do not provide training, online resources, or access for employees to view their personal information.
  • Not helping the right employees: Your staff can be reactively working on adhoc employee requests rather than proactively and strategically assessing high-risk employees. What if there are high-risk employees but staff do not know about them because these employees do not communicate their issues?
  • Cannot find the right data: Data is the lifeblood of any ergonomic program. It can be hard to collect data needed to identify trends and build reports if that information is decentralised in such a way that various workplace locations use different methods to track information—spreadsheets, paper-based records, and even site-level nurses who memorise employees’ details!
  • Unable to show the value of your programs: If data is not consolidated, it is hard to create an effective program and justify its return on investment. Your staff may feel like they are making progress, but they cannot prove their results with quantifiable data. This makes it hard for management to justify maintaining such programs, even if there are results at the operational level that cannot be seen at the executive level.

Use technology to your advantage

ErgonomicsAdvancements and use of the latest technology can assist in avoiding common pitfalls. An HSEQ software platform that encompasses an ergonomic solution can help you manage programs to reduce injuries, which reduces costs and helps maintain productivity; and help your ergonomic staff be more efficient, which gives them time to proactively help more employees and find new ways to reduce risks.

You can use software to track your ergonomic policies and procedures, collect data on employees, and justify your program’s ROI to management by showing its costs and quantifiable benefits. This helps management see the value in running these programs and the positive impact made on employees’ health.

Employees can fill out self-evaluations to assess their workplace for risk, and based on their answers, the solution automatically generates a risk score and recommendations for the employee. The staff can then look at these evaluations, triage employees to identify high-risk ones, and dedicate resources to support them.

Software empowers your employees to play a bigger part in ergonomic health. Online training and knowledge bases (i.e. wikis and libraries) reduce the number of employee requests that staff receive, which reduces your staff’s burden and provides them with more time for strategic work. Employees can also report hazards they observe to help staff identify risks that they were previously unaware of, which is especially useful in organizations with limited resources but many workplace locations.

In general, software helps you use data and streamlined processes to proactively find new and strategic ways to reduce risk instead of responding to situations in a reactive manner.

Put your ergonomic software on an enterprise-grade platform

An ergonomic point solution may be good to tackle the issues, but to get the full benefits, you need to choose software that is backed by an enterprise level platform.

Such a platform helps you consolidate data across various locations and departments into one centralized place that can be accessed 24/7 on any device. Your staff can identify high-risk and injured employees, management gets real time ROI data, and employees can access their data without bothering staff with requests for personal information.

Since your data is consolidated in the same place and format, you can build reports with a click of a button and find key insights to make smarter decisions. You can a take a step back and contextualise your data across functions like occupational health and safety and integrate ergonomic data with other HSEQ data so you have a more complete picture of your operations.

Finally, you can use an enterprise solution to be more productive by building automated workflows and notifications to optimize your ergonomic operations and using embedded regulation and guideline content (ie REBA, RULA, etc) without leaving your solution.

Case study

Let’s look at how this works in action. A consumer software company incurred increasing workers’ compensation costs from ergonomics injuries and did not have streamlined ergonomics operations to mitigate these injuries. For example, their staff conducted in-person employee assessments that took one hour to complete.

Because of these issues, they implemented ergonomic software and standardised internal processes to reduce compensation costs. They provided support online, over the phone, and physically by triaging cases based on risk level. As a result, they reduced annual workers compensation by more than 50% in their first year, and up to 90% in their fifth year. Since they collected ROI data, they had return on investment in 10 months and reduced ergonomic risk factors by more than 30%.

To recap, ergonomics injuries affect your business and you can build ergonomic programs to mitigate such risks. However, not only should you invest in such programs, but it is also important to invest in software solutions to enhance these programs as well.

Ergonomic Injuries Impact – HSE
Ergonomic Injuries Impact – Sovereign Heath Care
Ergonomic Injuries Impact – Fellowes UK
Cornell Study
Case Study Source

Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing

Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.

This free director’s briefing contains:

  • Key points;
  • Recommendations for employers;
  • Case law;
  • Legal duties.
Barbour EHS

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Nigel Evelyn-Dupree
Nigel Evelyn-Dupree
2 years ago

No worries about DSE Ergonomics as in an earlier SHP article suggested only around 10% actually, maybe, payed attention to the predictably high risks of visual MSD’s in DSE operators (58%) to physical main muscle group limbs and torso disorders (47% with MSK)) resulting from repetitive stress injuries. Even the HSL regardless of HSE RR 561 2007 continue putting back a review of the UK 93 Regs (now 2020) they themselves identified as “little or no benefit” in terms of reducing harm. Denial, omission and a blind-eye has also be turned to the WHO International Classification of Diseases 9th and… Read more »