[Editor’s Note: This is Part II of a four-part series. The first point, below, was discussed in Part I of this series (March 2002, The Ergonomics Report). The third and fourth points will be discussed in the May and June editions, respectively.]
For ergonomics interventions to make business sense, they must be deployed as a business initiative. Successful business improvement initiatives include the following characteristics:
A logical sequence of plan-do-check-act that non-technical managers can understand
Effective methods for evaluating potential problems and solutions, which yield clear priorities
Continuous attention to improving the existing environment, and an upstream focus on new product/process introductions
Swift change implementation only when everyone agrees that the benefit will be greater than the cost (financial and otherwise)
The second point is fundamental–the key to successful ergonomic evaluation is that the methods must be simple to apply and provide sufficient information to be useful. The remainder of this article focuses on what makes an ergonomic evaluation effective and includes points to consider to ensure that you’ll get the most out of the method you choose.
Appropriate and Relevant
Ergonomic assessments provide a way to identify problems so you can resolve them. Consequently the level of detail in your assessment should be appropriate for solving the problem. An eight-hour job analysis to put a simple, low-cost improvement in place is wasteful, but a 30-minute job analysis to justify a large capital expenditure is probably insufficient. Another point to consider is that the assessment should be relevant to the hazards; if you identify that your facility has manual material handling challenges, then counting the number of hand and wrist deviations per hour will add little value to your initiative.
Problem Identification and Prioritization
The results of an effective ergonomic assessment should drive solutions. It’s not enough that your results tell you there is a problem; they should clearly identify what the problem is so you know where to focus your improvement efforts. An assessment should also yield quantitative results–numerical outputs–that help you prioritize problem jobs. There are always more ergonomics challenges in the workplace than we have time or money to address, so prioritization is key, and a risk-based approach ensures that you are looking forward rather than backward (an injury-driven approach). Most ergonomic evaluation methods either prioritize jobs or highlight problems–only a few accomplish both.
Valid and Repeatable
Valid evaluation methods are based on scientifically determined risk factors, which are conditions of a job that contribute to the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorder. They consider applied forces, working postures, and rates of repetitive movement, and generally exclude issues such as visual challenges or noise exposures. Repeatability is ensured through clearly defined risk factors (e.g., “wrist extension greater than 45 degrees” rather than “wrist bending”), clear instructions, and a straightforward scoring approach.
Effective ergonomic assessments are the foundation of a successful ergonomics initiative. Carefully consider how much time is required to complete your assessments and whether they provide sufficient detail to pinpoint the problem.
Mike Wynn is Vice President of Humantech, an Ann Arbor, Michigan consulting firm. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2002-04-01.