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Applying the principles of ergonomics

February 1, 2010

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What elements make up an effective on-the-job ergonomics program?

Answered by Erin Sappington, learning and development lead, Vivid Learning Systems, Pasco, WA.

Most of us feel it at some point in our life. It comes with no apparent warning – just a simple movement and then a hot, stabbing pain in our back or wrists. If you have been performing your typical daily work tasks, you may wonder what has caused this sudden pain. Applying the principles of ergonomics can help you prevent these temporary injuries, as well as more severe injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. Let's look at three keys to an effective on-the-job ergonomics program: employee training, self-awareness and peer awareness.

Employee training

The first step toward making a positive change is recognizing there is room for improvement in the first place. Employee training is a great way to teach your employees about the ergonomics relative to their work tasks. A lot of training programs are available for you – both online and instructor-led. Regardless of the delivery method, effective training should include a discussion of how to prevent back pain and muscle injury, the principles and goals of ergonomics, signs and symptoms of work-related MSDs, and how to arrange one's workplace to reduce ergonomics problems.

Another key component of an effective ergonomics training program is that students have an opportunity to immediately apply the information they are learning. For example, in a Web-based ergonomics training course students may learn how to position their computer monitors and adjust their chair so as to reduce muscle strain. In addition, they may be taught exercises to reduce eye strain. Students should have the opportunity to immediately apply this information and pause to adjust their workstation while taking the course.

Self-awareness

Ergonomics programs are useless if we do not remind ourselves to apply the principles. For an ergonomics program to be effective, we must be self-aware of our body's physical placement throughout our workday. One of the easiest strategies for maintaining your self-awareness is to set up electronic calendar reminders to check your posture while working at your desk. Or, strategically place a couple of Post-Its around your work space to remind yourself to take a break and recheck your posture, do some quick stretches or pause for a few eye exercises.

Peer-awareness

Same as we should be looking out for our own safety, effective ergonomics programs include opportunities for employees to look out for one another's safety. Peer observations are an excellent way to reduce workplace injuries. Some organizations choose to address this in a very structured way with peer review observation sheets and formal feedback conversations. A more casual approach may include helping a co-worker adjust his or her desk height to the best fit. Or encouraging your colleagues to get up once an hour and take a quick walk around the building to give their muscles and their eyes a break.

For your ergonomics program to be effective, it should be more than just good training. Employees should practice self-awareness techniques, as well as observe and provide feedback to their peers. When combined, these three keys can protect your health and help your organization reduce this leading cause of work-related injury.



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