You can predict how soon a good ergonomics programme will pay for itself. As Keith Osborne explains, after that it’s all profit.

You know that the impact ergonomics has on production, quality and human performance can be a competitive advantage for your business not only in productivity increases but retaining the talent to take your organisation to the next level.

You know ergonomics can help your people work safer and be more productive. You have attended workshops and conferences where presenters have all shown you what can be done with a good programme. Now you need to be able to prove this to your organisation and get them into a proactive mode instead of chasing trends.

The neat thing is a really good ergonomics process doesn’t have to be as complicated as launching a probe to Pluto, but getting it going and sustaining it can be a little dicey if all the pieces don’t fit together. For your ergonomics process to achieve sustainable results it should be efficient, streamlined and once established, proactive to impact design and function while mitigating injury potential before either become negatives to the organisation.

An effective ergonomics process requires multiple levels of efficiencies to be effective. It requires an approach combining the efforts from various departments within the organisation, not just the efforts of the ergonomist. Management, engineers, employees, and others all have a stake in building a process that is both effective and proactive in its approach to not only driving down injuries but driving up productivity and efficiencies throughout the company.Identifying the stakeholder is crucial but also identifying the tools needed to develop and run the process too.

For an ergonomics process to be successful, the company’s management must be fully committed to integrating ergonomics into the workings of the organisation. Management must also understand that ergonomics in itself is a process just like safety, maintenance, and production and must be afforded the same attention and overseeing.

Employees must see this as a means to improve their work processes and a way to enhance their abilities to work smarter not harder. It is a means to have a voice in the other processes mentioned by continually improving their work through self-assessment and collaborative corrective actions that benefit not only the organisation but also the individual employee. Tools used to allow employees to self-assess must be easy to use, understandable to all, and not be a burden because they take a long time to complete.

Along with effective tools there should be integrated training as well as training that all supervisors and managers can employ to improve the organisation’s knowledge base. This knowledge will become the cornerstone for organisational improvements which will not only impact productivity, but also help drive down high risk numbers, injury rates and workers’ compensation costs.

Effective online assessment tools are a valuable process multiplier for any ergonomics initiative, whether you are building an industrial, office, or combined one. The best ones have built-in metrics to allow for instant feedback on how the process is progressing. They identify and categorize employees into low, medium, and high risk allowing the ergonomist to be more proactive in their approach so they can begin to mitigate the risks for these employees before they become a lost time injury.

They also have integrated tips and training to give employees instant feedback so the self-correction process can begin. This is vital to assisting the ergonomist in being able to work with those who are of the highest risk or those who simply cannot correct some of the issues shown in the assessment.

Human resources, facilities, safety, and engineering departments all have a stake as well. HR can use the process to help with return to work and alternative work arrangements by engaging the ergonomist. A great process is also a fantastic selling tool for talent managers within HR to tout what the company can do for the individual employee once they come on board.

Facilities, in working with the recommendations of the ergonomist, can help design and reconfigure workspaces to better accommodate the needs of the employees they support. They can install equipment that is not only functional and efficient but adjustable to accommodate several different body postures and a range of body types which promotes better postures and lower discomfort levels.

Safety and engineering have a stake to ensure that ergonomics is addressed early in a design process. This means making sure the recommendations are both safe but value added to the entire project.Ergonomics is about process improvement throughout the organisation and should enhance, never sacrifice either of these two disciplines.

An effective process also develops and maintains metrics. This data is the cornerstone of the process because it is what will drive continuous improvement, future funding, and expansion to all areas of the company as management see how ergonomics can positively impact performance and morale.

Much of this data will come from recognised leading and lagging indicators. What is a lagging indicator you ask? It is basically historical data where you will find injury trends, compensation costs, sick days and productivity trends to see where the organisation has been. This is valuable data to begin seeing where some of the initial efforts will need to be focused to make the biggest impacts. Below are some of those indicators:

  • OSHA recordable injuries.
  • Workers compensation costs.
  • Incidence rates.
  • Productivity performance trends.
  • Cycle time inefficiencies.

Leading indicators are those that, when properly tracked and developed, can put your programme on a path to effective proactivity and best practice continuous improvement. One where you are ahead of the trends and able to correct before issues become something tracked in a lagging indicator. Leading indicators are ones that can be used in case studies to show the effectiveness of an ergonomic process where none existed previously. They can be the springboard needed to show stakeholders the effectiveness of a supported ergonomic process and how it can positively impact the entire organisation. Some examples of leading indicators are:

  • Reduction of ergonomic risk factors.
  • Training sessions completed.
  • Audits completed.
  • Proactive compensation savings.
  • Reduced cycle times.
  • Return on investment (ROI).
  • High-risk employee reductions.

The last two can have a big impact on those who hold the financial sway at your organisation. Can you show that your process effectively mitigated risk to the degree that if it had gone unchecked, there was a potential for lost time, recordable injuries, and workers’ compensation claims impacting the organisation? Some may say you can’t really track that, but I think you can. By using an effective online tool in conjunction with an effective one-on-one assessment protocol, you can mitigate that potential from your highest risk employees.

By mitigating the reported risk through the elimination of awkward postures, enhanced training, and ergonomic engineering control implementation before it crosses the lost time reportable threshold, it becomes a leading indicator. ou have effectively lessened discomfort and corrected poor postural risk without loss of time to the organisation.Additionally, the employee becomes more effective because that discomfort is lessened and they are able to function at a higher level because of the proactive actions taken.

Simply put, the return on investment could be as follows: direct cost + indirect cost – corrective action cost (to include labour) = money saved.

This could then be translated into a timeline ROI where you could show your organisation roughly how soon they will recoup their investment through the productivity increase from a healthier employee. Depending on your online assessment tool, that productivity cost may be already tracked.

So for your ergonomics programme to be truly effective you need to do a few things. You need to know where you are, who the stakeholders are, and what is needed from each. You need to be able to have the flexibility to be multifaceted and, over time, proactive to stay ahead of trends. So define it, get it supported, and track your results. From there you will be able to continuously improve your process until it becomes a world class process our organisation can be proud of.

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