EHS managers of lower-risk facilities know that providing a safe, healthy and comfortable work environment is key to employee productivity and engagement. As a result, many EHS programs include an ergonomic component to mitigate safety risks and enhance employee well being. But as companies expand operations to new territories, hire new staff and workplaces become more flexible, ergonomics can get lost in translation.
The good news is that an ergonomic assessment of your office, data center, warehouse or other lower-risk workplaces can help you launch a pilot program or get your current program back on track.
Ergonomic assessments are meant to be an objective study of how employees are working, as well as help identify the ergonomic risks such as the development of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
If you’re planning on tackling this process yourself, consider the following steps as you craft and execute your assessment so you can gather the insights you need to build or refine your ergonomics program.
1. Review existing injury and incident data
In order to craft or improve your ergonomics program, you need to establish a baseline understanding of work-related incidents and injuries that have already happened.
Review injury and illness logs, workers’ compensation reports, first aid logs, accident and near-miss investigation reports, insurance company reports and any worker reports of problems.
This will allow you to identify common issues, injuries and complaints, zero in on high-risk departments or job types, and establish data-driven benchmarks that will be important for measuring success in the future.
2. Establish a standard ergonomic assessment method and set of tools
Your organization will likely conduct follow-up ergonomic assessments to measure progress and identify improvement opportunities. As a result, it’s important to establish a standard assessment method and set of tools so you can make apples to apples comparisons, and accurately identify risk factors.
Create an ergonomic assessment brief that outlines your methodology framework and tools for collecting both subjective and objective data. Then use the brief as a guide to ensure each assessment follows the same set of tools and documentation methods. Some tools to consider using include:
- WISHA Caution Zone Checklist
- WISHA Hazard Zone Checklist
- WISHA Lifting Calculator or NIOSH Lifting Equation
- Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA)
- Rapid Entire Body Assessment (REBA)
- Snook Tables
- Hand-Arm Vibration (HAV) Calculator
3. Get a real-life picture of your lower-risk facility
If you want your ergonomics program to be successful, you need to have on-the-ground knowledge of the environment that employees are working in.
Get a glimpse of workers in action by going on-site to collect subjective observations. Take extensive notes, and consider capturing photos and video to help you remember specific details and generate improvement ideas.
If you have facilities spread around the world, engage a global EHS consultant with ergonomics experience. A consultant offers broad-based knowledge and expertise, and can not only conduct the assessment, but also the analysis to provide you with actionable next steps. While an additional cost upfront, you’ll get to stay put—which frees up time, resources and budget.
4. Engage employees to get direct feedback
During your on-site visit, you’ll certainly need to hang back and observe workers in their natural habitats—but you should also take time to talk to them. After all, these people are in the trenches every day. Involving them in the process can lend you detailed, first-hand insights on how you can improve their work life, as well as strengthen your company’s safety culture.
Get the conversation going by explaining your mission and asking them questions about how they work, and how they feel about their environment. Some questions you could ask include:
- Does your job involve heavy or strenuous lifting tasks?
- Do you experience discomfort while doing your job?
- Do you get easily fatigued when performing your job?
- What would make you more comfortable in your workspace?
Another way to gain employee insights is through a discomfort survey. A discomfort survey will allow employees to anonymously or openly share how they feel about their working conditions and any issues they’re having.
5. Gather objective data and insights
Once you’ve reviewed hard incident and injury data, and observed and engaged employees in their work setting, it’s time to move forward with the more objective portion of the assessment process.
Use the insights you’ve already collected to create a comprehensive, prioritized list of job tasks and departments that need to be evaluated. Then pair that list with your chosen methodology and tools to start your objective evaluation.
6. Assess the data you’ve collected
Once you’ve collected both subjective and objective data and insights, it’s time to analyze what you’ve learned so you can identify risks and opportunities.
Begin by reviewing the information as a whole, and take note of insights that stand out. Then dive into each job type or department category to get a more granular picture of risks and opportunities. Then create a prioritized list of risks and opportunities to tackle in the short-term and long-term. Some questions to ask yourself throughout this process are:
- What is the injury risk associated with this job type?
- What is the level of risk?
- How can the risk be reduced?
7. Craft a plan to implement improvements
Now that your analysis is complete, it’s time to put what you’ve learned into action. Bring your EHS team together and use your prioritized list to flush out a strategy for addressing risks and opportunities. Some questions to consider during your discussion include:
- What’s our implementation timeline?
- How will we measure success?
- What training and resources are needed to implement, manage and refine our ergonomics program?
- What stakeholder groups should we engage?
- How will we communicate our plan?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to workplace safety in lower-risk environments. Learn how Antea Group’s RiskRight EHS service can provide you with tailored service offerings—from ergonomic assessments to full ergonomic program development.
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