February 8, 2024 / Rachel Zoky

Five Mistakes Companies Make with Ergonomics

This post was sponsored by VelocityEHS. Opinions are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of AIHA or The Synergist.

Increasingly, organizations are realizing that they need ergonomics programs to help keep employees safe and healthy from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), but many of them struggle to develop strong, effective ergonomics processes that can be sustained over time. In some cases, this means a process that never really gets off the ground; in others, organizations might devote significant resources toward performing assessments but fail to implement effective solutions and prevent MSD risk in a systematic way.

The Impact of Workplace MSDs

Musculoskeletal disorders have a massive impact on organizations and their workforces worldwide:

  • Work-related MSD cases result in 38 percent more time away from work for employees when compared to other injury types.
  • MSDs are the single greatest source of work-related injury costs and account for 35 percent of workers' compensation costs in the U.S.
  • MSDs are the second-greatest cause of disability globally, up 45 percent since 1999.

Elements of a Successful Ergonomics Process

Ergonomics, as defined by NIOSH, is "the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population." A successful ergonomics program is a continuous improvement process that focuses on designing the workplace, tools, and equipment so that their use is within employees' capabilities. It improves people's performance by making the work easier and safer to do. But what does "success" in ergonomics mean?

Through benchmarking studies conducted over the past 15 years, ergonomists at VelocityEHS have identified the practices that companies use to successfully manage ergonomics. These companies go beyond simply conducting ergonomics assessments; they also have comprehensive management systems in place to train workers, monitor progress on initiatives, verify the effectiveness of controls, and communicate results.

A successful ergonomics process uses a systems approach and is:

  • effective—it solves specific business problems
  • efficient—it uses resources (time, money, and people) wisely
  • sustainable—improvements are continuously implemented and maintained over time
  • compliant—it meets all local, regional, and national requirements regarding occupational ergonomics

So, where do companies go wrong with ergonomics?

Five Ergonomics Mistakes—and How to Fix Them

Mistake #1: Overreliance on Specialists

Certified professional ergonomists (CPEs) study and practice for years to achieve their certification, and their insights are invaluable. A CPE can help set up the process and deal with difficult challenges and unique solutions, but you don't need one for the everyday function of the process, and most companies don't have them on staff.

For a program to be sustainable, employees must gain an understanding of basic ergonomics principles so that they're not lost without an ergonomics specialist helping them. It is a mistake to bring in an expert and solely rely on them for all ergonomics knowledge and process activities.

A continuous improvement process cannot be successful if it relies entirely on one or two people to:

  • perform all the risk assessments
  • select every improvement project
  • implement every change
  • build site awareness
  • accomplish the many other tasks required to integrate the continuous improvement process into operations

Managing the workload, creating operator buy-in for improvements, and funding these changes require input from all staff and leadership to ensure that they are aligned on ergonomics process goals and prioritize the reduction of MSD risk. Democratize the ergonomics process by inviting operators to:

  • participate in risk assessments and improvement developments
  • utilize maintenance and engineering experience in evaluating improvement ideas
  • rely on site leadership to drive improvement priorities

Specialists can then monitor progress and provide expert recommendations as needed.

To learn about mistakes 2 through 5 and how to address them, get the eBook from VelocityEHS.

Rachel Zoky

Rachel Zoky, CPE, is a senior consultant at VelocityEHS, where she supports the implementation and management of corporate ergonomics processes and assists with ergonomics risk assessments and global training for select clients.


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