For frontline managers, the extra workload of complying with your company’s ergonomics program can, in itself, seem like a pain. Unlike many musculoskeletal disorders, however, the discomfort is only temporary, while the benefit stream can be rewarding and enduring.
Simply stated, ergonomics can be described as designing a job to fit a person so that the risk of injury is reduced. Such analysis looks to reorganize tasks and workstations to eliminate problematic awkward postures, repeated movements, and extreme force. Such conditions can stress the musculoskeletal system and result in musculoskeletal disorders, accompanied by symptoms such as fatigue, swelling and pain.
For many locations, an ergonomics assessment is a process that is undertaken periodically as part of a site’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program, or one that is triggered in the context of an injury investigation. There is a case to be made, however, that you should be watching for potential ergonomics improvements each and every day. Here’s why:
- It helps keep people on the job. Injuries have a knack of occurring when you can least afford them, and to those you can least afford to lose. Musculoskeletal injuries account for around one-third of occupational injuries and illnesses, and they also tend to last longer. The median number of days off the job for a musculoskeletal disorder is 50 percent longer than for the overall rate. Attention to ergonomic job design can help reduce injuries and lost time.
- It helps boost productivity. Struggling to achieve your performance targets? When workplace design promotes better posture, shorter reaches, less repetition, and less use of force, employees typically can perform work with less effort and greater efficiency. Even simple factors such as the handle height adjustment of stocking carts and the type of wheel can make a huge difference. (Small wheels can get stuck in a seam or rough spot on the floor, whereas larger wheels will not.) The one-touch merchandising of RPCs is a perfect example of how an ergonomic solution can improve productivity by eliminating the repetition involved with emptying fresh produce from crates and building displays.
- It helps cut costs. By preventing musculoskeletal disorders, you can reduce not only direct claims management costs but also indirect outlay for overtime, hiring, and training. Indirect cost impacts are typically three to five times greater than the direct expenditure. Better ergonomics can also cut costs associated with high turnover. Where work design provides a less taxing experience, employees are less likely to quit or fail their probationary period. And not surprisingly, labor cost can also be reduced through the increased productivity associated with improved ergonomics.
- It helps improve employee engagement and customer experience. When ergonomics solutions are implemented, fatigue is lessened, and employees are better equipped to deliver their best effort. This environment can translate into consistently high quality of work and superior workforce engagement. And retail employees freed from the burden of repetitive stocking duties will have more time to greet and assist customers.
Ergonomics improvements can involve simple, creative changes to your work process that make tasks just a little easier. Don’t wait until your next scheduled ergonomics review to seize improvement opportunities. There is too much at stake to delay.