Ergonomics is a thing. You can see with the funky keyboards, special chairs and desks in office spaces all around the world.
But for those who know anything about ergonomics and safety culture, the equipment itself doesn’t mitigate injuries or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) it takes a full safety program, or system, to ensure the ergonomics are part of the new safety culture.
Walter Rostykus, Winnie Ip and Jennifer Ann Dustin combined to write an article about ergonomics which was published in a recent issue of Professional Safety magazine. We’ve been highlighting it in the last couple of posts, and this one will discuss the application of the new draft proposal standards known as ISO 45001 into a comprehensive ergonomics management system.
Before we go into an ergonomics management system specifically, we should remind of the qualities that should be contained within an effective safety management system in general. This is done by referring to Deming’s words, “Manage the cause, not the results.” This means developing a system that encourages and guides regular and consistent improvement among workers and workplaces so as to reduce and eliminate risks and hazards that will reduce the frequency of incidents, injuries and deaths.
The challenge with ergonomics is that the risk factors and hazards can very greatly, according to the work that is done, the tools are are used, and so on. Perhaps because of this, it is more imperative to have a system to manage ergonomics rather than just placing equipment in an workplace and letting it go at that. NIOSH wrote as much in 2009 when it said that having a system of ergonomics can improve efficiency of workers, add productiveity and improve quality of life in general with fewer injuries.
Taking a look at the draft ISO 45001 standard, following are some elements that are consistent with the standard and yet can be applied to an ergonomic management system.
Of course, as with most any other safety management system, safety improvements are difficult if not impossible to achieve without full buy-in and commitment at the top. Good safety is not a top-to-bottom endeavor, however; it must come from the rnak-and-file and supervisors, who then go to the C-suite to get sanction and approval. To have a chance to get the C-suite to buy into what is happening, there has to be some leadership at the lower levels to sell the virtues of a safety program and be able to get enthusiasm and support from the rest of the rank-and-file, so that the C-suite has virtually no choice but to give its blessing.
This is not to mean that the C-suite is reluctant in supporting such a system, but that the leaders have developed such a process that the C-suite will embrace the concept and serve as a sponsor of the system. Having a plan and a policy will help with commitment, because it provides a shared mission and goal around which everyone can rally with a unified message and mindset that can bring about positive change in ergonomics specifically, and in safety generally.
The ergonomics management policy should have specific language that follows much of best-practices for most ergonomics, including the concept of “identifying and reducing risks” and including employee engagement in continually identifying, observing and reporting risk factors and risky behaviors.
Once a policy is in place, the next step is to develop roles and responsibilities (and even accountabilities where appropriate) for employees, supervisors and managers. This policy should be clear and as specific as reasonable, to make it easy for employees and others to be held accountable for their expectations to ensure upholding the ergonomics management system that is in place. Any confusion is likely to deter employees from sticking to the policy – they are more likely to avoid the policy than to ask questions about it. This clarity is also helpful in auditing and assessing progress and improvements among the workforce in adapting to the ergonomics system.
Next up, we’ll go through the “plan” aspect of the Shewhart cycle (plan-do-check-act) and how it can be applied to ergonomics management.