From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Office Ergonomics: Web-based Training Improves Outcomes

If you’ve ever been asked to provide ergonomics training and workstation evaluations for hundreds (or thousands) of employees in a call center, you know that one-on-one delivery of ergonomics services has some serious limitations:   

  • Time: Businesses don’t like taking people off the phone queue for more than a few minutes. With limited time for a consult you may have trouble establishing your credibility, especially if your suggestions don’t agree with the conventional ergonomics wisdom.
  • Retention: If you are able to provide comprehensive services, learning theorists tell us that most of your advice is forgotten within hours or days.
  • Boredom: The problems and solutions you see may be quite common from user to user.  You may get bored, fatigued or even loose you voice as you attempt to show employee after employee your favorite ergonomics tips and guidelines. 
  • High costs: One- on- one or Analog delivery of ergonomic services can get very expensive.  A staffer can cost $50 + per hour while consultants can range from $100 – $200 per hour!

Given all these considerations, it’s a fool’s errand to think you alone can have a lasting impact on ergonomics in a large call center.

There is a better way.  On-line tools can provide basic instruction and resolve many common issues with no need for a site visit. If a site visit is necessary, the user who completes an on-line course prior to your visit can be ready to process your advice at a higher level.  And, with a good on-line program, the user will have materials to refer back to long after you are gone. Retention and reinforcement of better work methods is greatly enhanced.

Simple Rules, Analysis Tools, Expert Ergonomics. Office ergonomics is not rocket science, but former NASA scientist Brian Peacock’s 70, 20, 10 ergonomics rule* forms a great foundation.  

Simple Rules:  70% of all office ergonomics issues can be resolved with simple rules and guidelines. Because the equipment, tasks, risk factors, and solutions are often similar, web-based programs are perfect for sharing basic ergonomics rules.  I advise a simple three-step process;

  1. Adjust the Chair
  2. Adjust the Computer Equipment
  3. Move and Change Positions

Short, sweet, and to the point.
Analysis Tools: 20% of your users may have some issues that require more detail or some alternative ways of working. In my web-based tool, the posture evaluation provides more guidance if there is an issue. Users with ergonomic or discomfort issues are presented with alternative solutions and different media choices (static web pages, video, or document downloads).  In some instances the user is asked to partner with a co-worker to assist in the posture assessment and adjustment of things like the monitor or keyboard height. This can free up the experts time for more significant cases.

Expert Ergonomics: Web based tools won’t help everyone.  Approximately 10% of your users don’t get it or have other more involved issues.  This is where you want to spend extra time and money to send an expert.  These cases have the potential to become expensive if a claim arises.  In these instances I still prefer having materials on a web site or user’s inbox. Here is why I believe having reference material on the computer is better:

  1. “As seen on the internet” validation. Ok, this one is pretty silly, but some people really do find it more believable if they find it online – even if you put it there.  If you have limited time for the consult you need quick user buy-in on your credibility and advice.
  2. Distraction testing. You may have asked someone to “show me how you work” only to see them sit up straight and commence work with perfect posture. Distracting the user with a real computer task allows the expert to observe the individual’s true work style and habits. Give them specific instructions; go here, open this, search for that, etc. Get them thinking about the task, not their posture.  After you figure out the problem you may give corrective advice like asking them to self-monitor posture and work methods.
  3. Future reference. We all forget things that we don’t use on a regular basis.  Having ergonomic rules, guidelines and instructions posted on a web site allows employees to return for periodic refreshers.    Chair adjustments, monitor settings, stretches, etc should live on the web so you don’t get that call to “come adjust my chair” every six months.

Ergonomics Works, On-line Ergonomics Works Too.  We know from published reports that ergonomics programs can be effective.  The evidence for on-line approaches is promising.

  • The landmark US Government Accounting Office study found that office ergonomics is effective at reducing injury and expense. One participant, American Express, reported an 80% reduction in workers compensation costs.
  • The Puget Sound HFES web site has summarized the results of 250 ergonomics interventions in their Cost-benefit section:
  • On-line ergonomics provider Remedy Interactive has published results of their program including; WC Costs ↓40%, Lost Days ↓40%, Cost per Claim ↓74%.
  • Unpublished results from my ErgoAdvocate program include; 85% of user’s ↑ fit & comfort, 71% ↑ personal productivity, 71% of those with wrist & arm pain improved.

Do the numbers. There are only so many hours in a day and days in a week. If you work for an organization with a lot of computer users or distributed locations there is just no way you and your colleagues can get to all who need your services.

Extend your reach. By providing on-line services you can extend your reach and provide your employees with anywhere anytime assistance.  With an on-line program you can train hundreds of employees for the cost of one MSD.

Focus on high risk cases. Don’t send experts for high-volume screening efforts. Instead, send experts to high risk groups and known problem areas.

* 70, 20, 10 rule discussed at a professional development conference. These percentiles presented here for illustrative purposes only.

Gene Kay has a Masters degree in Exercise Science and is a Certified Ergonomics Associate. He has been designing web-based ergonomics programs for 10 years, and owns the ErgoAdvocate Ergonomics Training program.  Gene has served as the American Express Global Ergonomics Manager, a Rehab Services Manager, and is Past-President of the Upper Midwest Chapter of HFES.