Use an Ergonomic Assessment to Boost Employee Wellness
How can an ergonomic assessment create satisfied, productive, and healthy employees? The answer is simple: employee-focused prevention.
What is an ergonomic risk assessment?
This is an objective measure of the human factors and risk factors in a work environment. Ergonomic risk assessments mainly focus on factors that may lead to injuries or musculoskeletal disorders for employees. When conducting ergonomic assessments, you should identify risk factors and effectively quantify them. Then, you can make measurable improvements in the work environment. A thorough ergonomic assessment can create a safer, healthier workplace and improve overall wellness.
How do you do an ergonomic assessment in the workplace?
Conducting a successful ergonomic assessment is a relatively straightforward process. Your goals should be to evaluate the work environment and how the workforce interacts with that environment. Keep these broader, overarching goals in mind as you begin. Later, you can analyze the specifics without getting distracted by irrelevant details. Here are five steps for performing a successful ergonomic assessment:
1. Review any existing data
Your first step in an ergonomics assessment is to understand your workplace wellness baseline. Look at claims data, workplace injury reports, first aid logs, worker’s compensation reports, and any available data on workplace incidents.
For an office, that may involve claims about musculoskeletal issues like back problems, neck problems, or carpal tunnel syndrome. In industrial settings, you may need to look at claims involving workplace hazards or injuries sustained while using the equipment. As you review the information gathered, note any higher-risk activities, common injuries, and complaints. This will help you narrow the focus. You’ll also know how to maximize improvement efforts in areas where you will see the most results.
2. Pick your assessment tools
Now, you’re going to gather and analyze current data about your workplace and workforce. Before you collect and analyze existing data, take a step back and determine how you will measure your data.
Well-respected and established ergonomics assessment tools are available online in the public domain. Here is a list of some of the best available ergonomic assessment tools.
- WISHA Caution Zone Checklist. Guides users to place the work activity into a “caution zone” — jobs with a sufficient degree of risk. Workers performing these jobs should receive training related to MSD hazards, and further risk assessment should be done (1).
- WISHA Hazard Zone Checklist. Guides users to determine if any typical job activities of caution zone jobs may put employees at risk of hazardous levels of ergonomic stress (2).
- WISHA Lifting Calculator. Can be used to perform ergonomic risk assessments on a variety of manual lifting and lowering tasks. It can also be used as a screening tool to identify lifting tasks that need to be further analyzed using the NIOSH Lifting Equation.
- NIOSH Lifting Equation. Used by occupational health and safety professionals to assess the manual material handling risks associated with lifting and lowering tasks.
- Rapid Entire Body Assessment (REBA). Evaluates whole body postural musculoskeletal disorders and ergonomic design risks associated with job tasks. A form assesses required body posture, forceful exertions, type of movement or action, repetition, and coupling.
- Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA). Assesses biomechanical and postural load requirements of job tasks/demands on the neck, trunk, and upper extremities. It’s used to evaluate required body posture, force, and repetition.
- Liberty Mutual Manual Material Handling Tables (SNOOK Tables). Outlines design goals for various lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, and carrying tasks.
Choose the tools that best apply to your workplace ergonomics or facilities. Then, use them as the basis for gathering your objective data.
3. Gather subjective data
Start with a subjective evaluation of your workplace as it is right now. Walk the floor or offices to get a hands-on experience and understanding of the environment your employees are working in. Make notes about any problem areas or potential health and safety issues you see. Look at your workplace the way an outsider might see it — through a critical lens.
During your walk-through, you could briefly talk to employees about their working conditions or do smaller-scale workstation assessments. By involving your employees’ input in your ergonomic assessments, you can increase the likelihood of support for any changes. This step will also give you valuable, first-hand insights that you may not be able to get elsewhere.
Be sure to thoroughly explain your objectives and encourage open, honest feedback. Ask your employees critical questions such as:
- Does your job involve any repetitive motion? Do you feel like it affects your physical health?
- How often do you experience pain or discomfort while working due to your tools or environment?
- Do you experience exhaustion while performing your job?
- Do you ever feel unsafe while completing your job tasks?
- Can you think of anything that would increase your comfort, energy, productivity, or safety?
Face-to-face conversations with individual employees are most helpful. But you can also conduct an employee survey to gather more direct feedback or further advice.
4. Gather objective data
You’ve reviewed your work injury history, observed your workplace, and received direct feedback. Now you need to develop a prioritized list of work activities, work environments, and problem areas to evaluate and reform. Use the ergonomics assessment tools to measure your risk factors.
5. Analyze, then prioritize injury risk.
Piece information together to create a prioritized list of risk factors and risk reduction opportunities. Analyze the old and new info you gathered during the assessment in its entirety by task and department. Identify critical insights and opportunities for risk reduction. Prioritize these by their potential for injury and injury severity. You may also be able to find areas for short-term and long-term impact. Once you’ve completed this process, you’ll have developed a well-executed, practical report of all ergonomic risk factors. You’re ready to create a strategy to reduce risks and improve the ergonomics at your workplace.
What to do after an ergonomic assessment
After an ergonomic assessment, HR personnel or managers can take evidence-based steps to reduce injury, increase comfort, and measure progress. Office modifications could include providing adjustable sit-stand desks, adjustable chairs and workstations, ergonomic keyboards, wrist rests, and lumbar support.
In manufacturing and industry, companies can improve the ergonomics of their employees by providing reasonable adjustments to their workplace. This can include anti-fatigue standing mats, customizable or adjustable workstations, and training to improve posture.
Use an ergonomic assessment to boost workplace wellness
Once you’ve completed all these steps in conducting ergonomic risk assessments, your next task is finding solutions. Fortunately, Sedus has been continuously setting new standards regarding ergonomics, manufacturing processes, and sustainability since 1871. Their office furniture solutions are not only stylish and streamlined but built with ergonomic principles in mind. Contact Sedus to learn how to improve workplace productivity, efficiency, and wellness with expert knowledge and strategic design.
1 WISHA Caution Zone Checklist