Chris King - The Bottomline Benefits of Workplace Ergonomics
So for those of us who may not be familiar with this concept of ergonomics, can you start off by explaining really just what ergonomics are?
Sure. I mean, ergonomics in its most simple term is just basically the interaction between people and their work environment. And sometimes it goes a little bit deeper and it looks into the study of people's efficiency at their work environment. Another term that people like to throw around a lot with ergonomics is human factors. And that really looks at the physical components of ergonomics as well as the psychological aspects and impacts that those have on people in the overall business.
What got you into the field?
Well, really, I mean, ergonomics is very interesting to me. And if you think about it, ergonomics is all around us and has been for centuries. What I'm really going to remind everybody is that ergonomics doesn't have to be complicated or overly technical or expensive. We can stick to the basic principles and focus on the low lying fruit at the beginning. That's really key. And it's great to actually walk away with a few wins for the organization by making some meaningful changes that positively impact the workforce or the workers and that will really help you build momentum. Ergonomics at home is also something, you know, it should be looked at and like we were talking about earlier you need to be comfortable and efficient at home. You know that's very important as well, spending time to dedicate a workspace for yourself and not having it be the kitchen table or the living room coffee table would really reap benefits.
Yeah. I could use that, as I'm sure so many could at this moment. Well, I've read that implementing ergonomics in the workplace can bring a number of expected and then even some very less obvious benefits. Can you explain a few ways that ergonomics can make a positive difference in the workplace?
Absolutely. A successful ergonomic program really shows that a company or organization is committed to health and safety as a core value. And there are really full immediate benefits that an effective ergonomics program can reap, and that's a reduction of costs and improvements in quality and productivity in the engagement of employees. And it's so important because healthy, engaged employees are the most valuable asset to any organization and really creating and fostering a proactive health and safety culture will lead to better human performance for the entire organization. And it's really, it's crazy that, you know, ergonomics and safety really go hand in hand and they've been looked at separately for years, but many of the most successful companies in America heavily focus on really eight key health and safety principles. And they're very simple: the first, which is probably the most important, is support from leadership or management.
Safety really has to be a top down process. It's a very difficult to do it from the middle out. So having dedicated leadership being involved in this is key. The second one is employee involvement. We go into a lot of companies where you have engineers and managers sitting in a conference room, coming up with standard operating procedures and ways to perform tasks and employees really need to be involved in that because they're the ones that are doing it. Another, the third one is innovative solutions for safety challenges. I can't tell you how many times we go into a place and we asked the simple question, "Hey, why are you doing it that way?" "Because that's the way we've done it for years." But to really get creative and innovative, to look at an old problem and create a new solution really helps you build momentum.
The fourth thing you kind of look at is if the injury and illness rates are lower than the average in their industry. If you're a company and you're happy with the average or even slightly above or below the average industry rate, that's something you really have to look at it. Every company and organization should really strive to be below that industry rate and that really says a lot about your organization. A fifth thing is a comprehensive training program. You know, we see a lot of excellent documents with safety policies, procedures, processes, safety guides, but if they don't train the people in a way that they can understand and comprehend what's going on, it's really not even worth the paper that it's written on. But another important feature is the evidence of having some type of prevention of incidents as a cornerstone of your safety process. And that looks like, you know, a near miss program, a safety observation program and employee idea generation program, something to keep those lines of communication and two way conversations going and to get ahead of things versus only address them when something bad has happened. And that leads to the last two. And that's good communication about safety values. If you walk into an organization and have to guess what their safety values are--then they're not at every corner then that's something you got to look at. And every organization has to have measurable goals on metrics in all phases of the business. So safety can't be a standalone piece of the business. It has to be incorporated into every other aspect of the business.
You touched on something there I want to ask about. I definitely understand the idea of ergonomics as a cost reduction measure for businesses, particularly from a workers' compensation standpoint, but you've mentioned, I mean, can it really improve productivity and employee wellbeing?
Oh, absolutely. The best ergonomics solutions will often improve productivity, which is important at work or home, to be honest with you. And, by designing a job that allows for good posture, less exertion of force, fewer motions and movements, better working surface heights for less reaching, the work of the job tasks becomes easier and the person becomes more efficient. Likewise, on the flip side of that, poor ergonomics really leads to frustrated and fatigued workers who don't really do their best work and an example of that is when a job task is too physically taxing or demanding on a person. They may not perform that job the way that they were trained to do. And, we see it a lot in manufacturing where employees might not fasten a screw or a washer or a nut or something like that tight enough due to high force and repetition requirements which could really lead to product quality issues down the line.
It also happens in jobs like customer service, you know, imagine having a tension headache with neck pain and you're on a phone call or a face to face interaction with a customer. You know, that customer may not get the best you have to offer because you're focused on pain versus the job at hand, right? And at home, many times we try to do way too much in the amount of time that we have to do things and don't think projects all the way through from the very beginning. And my dad always said, it's better to think twice and move once. And, you really need to review the job before you start it and focus on what you need to do that job safely and efficiently, you know, simple things like make sure that you have all the tools and equipment that you need before you start, making sure that that equipment and tooling is in good working condition, make sure that you have the materials you need in a convenient location; if you have to walk 10, 15 feet away to get things, that decreases your productivity. Also things like reviewing your walking and working surfaces, you know, where am I doing this job? Consider personal protective equipment like safety glasses or work boots or gloves. And really most importantly, having a good, clear picture of the job site and a well thought out action plan will make any job easier and more efficient.
So you touched upon something a little bit there. I think the question on a lot of people's mind, is how this can affect the remote worker. What suggestions can you make for people who are new to working from home and dealing with some of these challenges themselves?
Well, really stick to the same principles. You know, it's really not much different than a manufacturing environment or any other organization. I mean, look at what you need to do. Look at the current state that you're doing it in. And again, if you're at a kitchen table on a laptop, on a chair, a kitchen chair, wooden chair, those are all things you have to look at and I always try to tell people to look from the ground up or your feet up. So make sure your ankles, your knees and your hips are all with a 90 degree angle or a perfect L shape. If you're sitting on a couch and you're sunk in, that's not going to happen. If you're sitting on a bar stool, that's up too high, that's not going to happen. The second thing I would look at is your elbows, both elbows should also be at a 90 degree or an L shaped angle.
And it's also really good to have some type of arm rest and take away some of that pressure on them as well. And then simple things like looking at your computer the way it's laid out, making sure that your monitor is no more than 18 to 24 inches away from your face, making sure that the top of your monitor lines up somewhere between your eyes and your nose for good posture as well. So there's a lot of small things you can do that'll make you much more comfortable and, relieve any musculoskeletal pain you might have from sitting at a computer for a long period of time. Simple, easy adjustments can make a real difference in the long run.
Okay. As you went through that list, I realized I was doing every single thing you said completely wrong.
And again, you don't have to boil the ocean. You know, a lot of times people try to attack the whole problem, but I always think foundationally, you know, starting off with your feet, knees and hips, we'll kind of have a chain reaction for the rest of you, but start small, start simple, get a few wins in there and you'll feel significantly better.
Nice. I need it. Okay. So let's say I've been given the go ahead to redesign the workspace or an entire area ergonomically, how should I or employers begin and what should they focus on?
To me, the most important thing is to have a plan and follow some type of data. You know, math doesn't lie, right? We go into a lot of organizations where people think they understand what the problem is or what the situations are that need fixing. But if you really take a step back and look at your data that really should clarify things and help you kind of come up with clear goals and objectives. And for me personally, I would start with your OSHA injury log or your workers' compensation loss run. Because that's going to tell you the type of injuries that you're having, the locations and job tasks that are most common for those injuries and it will really give you a good location on where to start. And, to go a little further, one of the things we see a lot is that companies don't really understand their job tasks. So this really forces them to look at the way people are performing their job. It forces people to get out onto the manufacturing floor or to actually watch their employees do their job. And that's one thing that you would think would be very common sense, but it's really not. As a lot of the times, people just get stuck in offices or cubicles and they don't kind of drift out onto the floor and see how people are actually performing the work.
I mean, this is a lot of fantastically good information, where can I go to find some good resources?
Well, there's really a lot of information resources available online and much of it's free and on public domain. And there are also plenty of professional organizations that deal with ergonomics that you can hire to help and assist, but they tend to be a little bit costly. But certainly for our policyholders, a good place to start free of charge is with A.I.M. Mutual and the Injury Prevention and Worksite Wellness department. Our team has industrial ergonomic experts that can help you get started in this or assist with more complex jobs. We get a lot of calls from people with not really an overall ergonomics program, but individual job tasks that are causing nightmares for them. So we can do either a broad approach or we can look at very specific job tasks. And then we also have office economics, like we just talked about working from home. A lot of people in some organizations don't really realize that the office staff have a lot of ergonomic issues. And we have office ergonomic assessment capabilities to come in, look at people's workstations and desks and make little adjustments on the way. And we also try to encourage kind of a "train the trainer" approach with a lot of safety committee members. And not that they'll become ergonomic experts, but we can train members of a safety committee to actually go out and do ergonomic audits and help people with small problems along the way.
Well, Chris, thank you so much for all of your insight on this and thank you to our listeners for spending this time with us today. You can find out a lot more about this on the A.I.M. Mutual website. Please feel free to reach out with any of your thoughts or questions you might have and be sure to tune in for our next topic, Chris. Thanks again.
Thanks. Make sure to make time for yourself.