In the modern world, many people spend most of their working life in an office. Usually, this time is spent behind a desk. In addition, an increasing number of workers are using computers to do their jobs. This situation among others is leading to an increase in the number of workplace injuries caused by incorrect use of equipment or the use of inappropriate equipment. This is the basis of ergonomics.
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Ergonomics refers to the issues relating to the safe use of equipment. As such, the fundamental part of the process of the development of equipment in ergonomics is the design phase. This makes ergonomics “an engineering issue” rather than “a health and safety issue”. However, equipment is only one side of the coin.
The safe use of the equipment requires the availability of the equipment and the skills to use it safely. Therefore, a more complete definition of ergonomics is “the science of fitting the right jobs to the right people, based on physical ability and other characteristics relevant to a specific job”.
Many companies appreciate the importance of ergonomics, but they do not make it a core issue in their operations. Evaluations conducted in such companies reveal a satisfactory level of awareness among company executives.
However, very few companies translate this understanding into effective programs in practical terms. Ergonomics will become more important with time because of the increasing level of awareness among company employees.
Importance of Company Involvement in Ergonomics
The case for the involvement of companies in ergonomics is becoming stronger by the day. The reasons for this vary from better returns to the reduction of unjustifiable worker compensation claims. The first benefit a company derives from ergonomics is a reduction or elimination of successive problems that new employees come with as preexisting conditions.
When an employer hires new workers, some of them have predisposing factors that makes them liable to suffer from injuries in the workplace. The presence of an ergonomics program can help to identify these factors, and to reduce their impact on the effectiveness of the employee.
For instance, a new worker with a preexisting condition related to back pains will benefit from an ergonomics program aimed at eliminating or alleviating back pains from the work environment. As such, the worker will be more productive. Apart from managing predisposed employees, an ergonomics program will ensure that these conditions come to the attention of the company early enough in case of future litigation.
The second reason why all companies ought to have an ergonomics program is that in the workplace, “healthy people perform better”. An employer is better off with a healthy and fit workforce than one which has high rates of work related injuries. Repetitive stress injuries cost employers 1 Billion dollars per year in America. Time spent by employees recuperating in hospitals or at home is lost to the business.
The highest cause of job absenteeism is repetitive stress injuries, which is higher than the combined rates for falling, slipping, and exposure to harmful substances. Therefore it is in the employer’s interest that the working conditions in the workplace do not damage the health of the employees. Poor ergonomics is the cause of many Musculo-Skeletal Disorders (MSDs) that lead to high compensation claims by workers (Mallon, 2012a).
Significance of Training Company Employees in Ergonomics
When a company commits resources to train its employees on ergonomics, the company derives several benefits. The chief benefit is that it leads to increased productivity by the workers.
In summary the benefits that a company derives from taking an interest in ergonomics include higher productivity, lower rates of illness, reduced risk of injuries in the workplace, reduced fatigue, fewer errors by employees, and generally increased job satisfaction levels among the employees.
When employees know what is safe for them, they take responsibility for their own safety. This is better than trying to police the employees.
Secondly, an institutional appreciation of ergonomics in the workplace, and a clear commitment from the management creates the best atmosphere in the company for the implementation of workplace safety programs. Training employees creates such an environment.
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On another note, telecommuting is an increasing trend in contemporary working environments, which has an impact on the health of employees. The ergonomic issues that arise relate to the limitations the company has over the design of employee workspaces in locations outside the corporate offices.
This means that an employee with a working understanding of ergonomics can take better care while working from home. If the company relegates the issues of workplace safety to the senior employees only or to specific departments, telecommuting workers can develop avoidable physical conditions simply because they did not know the impact of their working habits.
Thirdly, the world is very concerned about environmental sustainability. The increasing interest in environmental sustainability expressed through concepts like the triple bottom line (pursuit of balance between people, planet and profit), ergonomics stands a chance of becoming one of the central pillars of the people paradigm (Ellison & Nou, 2011).
A company can use its policies in ergonomics as an expression of its contribution towards environmental sustainability.
Value of Flexibility in Office Ergonomics
Along with the expansion of individual freedoms across the world, respecting the privacy of an individual’s work space is becoming a social and professional norm. This can create a bottleneck while practicing ergonomics. Implementing policies in ergonomics may call for replacement of office furniture and changing the office layout. This process can result in feelings of intrusion and invasion of privacy.
Office space is like personal space, rearranging personal office furniture without the user’s consent is like rearranging a person’s furniture in their home without their consent. It is important to listen to the concerns of all employees especially when there is a need to change their furniture or to rearrange their workspaces. Otherwise the program may breed resentment from the workers, leading to losses for the company.
Another factor every company needs to bear in mind while implementing workplace safety policies is that people’s bodies change bringing with them new needs. This can be sudden in cases of disease and accidents, or it can be gradual. At the same time, some people adopt bad habits over time.
Implementing ergonomics programs require that a company educates its people in addition to providing them with appropriate equipment to enable them to adapt to personal changes in the workplace. (Mallon, 2012b). Regular assessments can help to reveal the changes in the needs of individual employees.
Assessing Types of Ergonomic Equipment and Usage for Disabled Workers
Different people have different physical needs. This is more pronounced for disabled workers. The nature of their disability brings into play different needs. The best way to implement an ergonomics program that takes into account special needs is by using a metric based system. Using numbers to track trends provides the company with a strong basis for implementing an ergonomics program.
It is useful to understand the extent of the needs of each employee just as it is to understand the existing and emerging special needs of the disabled employees. One of the special areas of disability that requires attention is sight. In an organization, employees will often have varying levels of visual ability. It is important to take care of the unique needs that each employee possesses that relates to their sight.
Some may need anti glare monitor covers, while others may need special screen reading software. Apart from physical disability, every organization needs to take special care to meet the needs of aging members of staff. With age, safety needs increase.
From the foregoing it is clear that every company needs to take seriously the implementation of an ergonomics program. Such programs yield multiple benefits for organizations. It protects the organization from losses due to litigation, and it puts the organization in good stead with its stakeholders. The best way to pursue an ergonomics program is by involving the employees.
After providing equipment for employees that meets the criteria for ergonomics, it is also important to provide adequate training to empower them to make informed shop floor decisions to take care of their personal safety. In addition, training empowers telecommuting workers to make good decisions when acquiring furniture for off-site offices such as home offices. This will bring the most benefits to the company.
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