On March 21, 2012, Ergoweb held a webinar titled “Improving Outcomes — Office Ergonomics Success Stories.” Attendees asked many questions — far too many to answer during the webinar — so we’ve compiled and answered the questions in this article. Keith Osborne and Gene Kay were the featured speakers.
Q: Interested in ergonomic considerations of laptop V desktop computer use.
Keith: In my opinion you have to treat a laptop the same as a desktop but different. Here is what I mean. We all know the portability of the laptop, but when you are in your workstation at your office you need to treat the laptop as a CPU. If it is your only screen elevate it and add a separate mouse and keyboard. If you need a second screen and have the laptop elevated to the same level as your monitor. The better solution to that would be to have a second monitor of the same size installed and simply close the laptop and let it function as a CPU.
Gene: I advise users to first consider the exposure or amount of use of any device and then consider appropriate ergonomic adjustments. For example, if the laptop is only used occasionally the risk from improper ergonomic positioning may be low. If the laptop is used frequently or continuously then the ergonomic positioning is very important. We know that it is difficult to have the keyboard low enough to relax the shoulders while keeping the monitor at a height & angle that is easy on the eyes and neck. Here are some general guidelines:
Q: IS THERE ANY DOCUMENTATION PROVING THAT ERGONOMICS MAKES A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORKPLACE?
Gene: There is a ton of documentation that ergonomics works. Washington State Dept of Labor and the Puget Sound HFES group have collected 250 case studies. See http://www.pshfes.org/. You can also Google search terms such as “economics of ergonomics” for other results.
Q: HOW DO YOU CONVINCE THE EVP AND THE CEO THAT ERGONOMICS WILL HELP THE COMPANY SAVE MONEY AND MAKE THE EMPLOYEES MORE PRODUCTIVE?
Keith: Metrics, metrics, metrics. Maintain good documentation of everything you do with the program. Costs, labor hours, numbers of assessments (to include reassessments). When complaints are reported (i.e., should tension, wrist pain, etc), highlight these and show what was done to alleviate the issue. Use historical data from reputable sources for these numbers and work them into a spreadsheet. Talk to mid-level managers to see if employees who have had assessments have shown an increased job performance. Not the most scientific measurement (unless your company counts keystrokes, etc) but you can certainly glean information from that and apply it to the impact this productivity increase has had on the performance of the company as a whole. As a defense contractor we have certain measurable criteria we need to meet with our Air Force customer so I have pulled from that data, information that supports the positive, proactive performance of the ergonomics and wellness programs here.
Gene: Start with getting published results (see answer to previous question), and then demonstrate the effectiveness of proper ergonomics in your own organization. You might also consider asking your insurance carrier to help you make the case for ergonomics. If you develop an effective program you may be eligible for insurance discounts.
Q: what do you think is the most important ‘first step’ in starting a new program?
Keith: I truly believe there are two important “first steps” in starting a new program or getting a stalled one re-energized. You have to find a champion. Someone who is willing to dedicate themselves to the process and really willing to take the time needed to build and sustain it. Secondly, management buy-in. Without it you will get nowhere. I was lucky in that two of my early “customers” were the program manager and the lead financial officer. I was able to mitigate their pain during the assessment process and keep it away and from there, I simply targeted mid-level managers to garner their support by doing the same for them.
Gene: It may depend on your company culture and your role and influence within the company. Early in my career I found success by starting with volunteering to work with high risk groups and then demonstrating effectiveness. This method of demonstrating success and then asking for more support can also work with larger more mature programs. Do good work, publicize the success — tell everyone about it, and then ask for more (support, backing, money, responsibility, etc.)
Q: Do you use crank or electric sit/stand stations?
Keith: I have both electric and a pneumatic style table. I have a crank table in my lab but I don’t favor them as a rule. With the cost of powered tables coming down, I think spending a touch more for that or even a pneumatic model is worth it.
Gene: Hand crank desks may be acceptable for occasional adjustment within seated computer work height ranges. However, hand crank desks often take too long and require too many rotations to raise the desk sufficiently for sit-to-stand adjustments that might be done several times each day.
Q: Whose budget absorbs the cost of the sit/stand station and other furniture?
Keith: There is a company overhead budget that absorbs the cost of what is considered office supplies/consumables — mice, keyboards, mouse pads. The remainder comes out of my Facilities budget as a work station improvement, reconfiguration, or rebuild.
Gene: My previous employer (a global financial firm), and many of my current clients push the cost of ergonomic products onto the receiving employee’s department.
Q: Is the RMI on your spreadsheet is what the employee reports or is documented or are you including potential injury if the ergonomist observes a body part that can be at risk.
Keith: The employee reports the issue of what is hurting them (shoulder, hand/wrist, etc.). From that initial report I assess what the root causes are and if it is still that affected area. Once that is done I place that information on my ROI sheet to include any corrective actions. The costs listed are from known historical data from a couple of sources (OSHA and Liberty Mutual are two good ones) and the subtracted costs are for the equipment used to apply the corrective action and the estimated labor cost depending on who actually completes the installation. I have a couple of Facilities Techs who assist in build outs, etc. (they do not assess).
Q: Any concerns about liability with treadmill and bike station?
Keith: As part of my efforts here at Honeywell to tie ergonomics and wellness together I developed the cyber kiosk area. When an employee comes down for their Wellness Center Briefing (mandatory for the use of the center) they are also getting a briefing for the kiosk area. They then sign a usage waiver before they can use the equipment in either room.
Q: Is Keith doing ergonomics as a Full-time position or is this part of his overall job.
Keith: It would be nice to eventually get to where I can concentrate solely on the ergonomics and wellness aspects of my job but I have several other areas that I am either fully responsible for or have a huge role in: Lead Emergency Responder; CPR, First Aid w/AED Trainer/Instructor; Facilities Budget Coordinator; Wellness Program Manager; Fitness Center Manager; Conference Room Audio-Visual Lead; Internal Safety Audit (for our internal safety systems Fire control, AEDs, etc); Internal Construction Lead; Building Utilization and Occupancy.
This year I will be developing a Manual Material Handling Program for our site as well.
I will say that Ergonomics and Wellness do get a lot of my time. Some of the other areas are not rapidly reoccurring so I don’t have to spend as much time with them and I have a team that supports me in those other areas as well.
Q: How much time does [Keith] allocate for an office workstation assessment (time with employee and write up)?
Keith: The initial assessment/interview takes about 15 minutes at the person’s workstation. Once we are done there, we move to the ergonomics lab and verify everything, talk about micro-breaks, stretching, any corrective actions needed, fit them for a chair, mouse, keyboard, etc. and if the employee needs a large scale reconfiguration it is scheduled to not impact their schedule. All total 30 minutes to 1.5 hours (if a big build is needed).
Q: Thank you for offering this program!
Keith: It is my pleasure to provide this program and I look forward to making it even better as it continues to mature. It is a lot of fun doing this and the wellness portion and tying the two together with the cyber kiosks and stretching initiatives. I am proud to have developed this into an award winning Best Practice Program (OSHA and Honeywell).
Q: What is annual cost for sustaining this program at an employer? For instance, IT support, admin management, monitoring, reporting etc
Keith: I just recently set up a Manual Material Handling database with Auburn Engineers so there is an annual cost for that system.
The work request system where I get my assessment requests from is simply a server here in the building. Very little IT cost there.
I am my own admin J so I do my own monitoring, reporting, etc.
Equipment is a sizeable cost but with the great vendors I work with, those costs are kept quite low.
The great thing is that as the program matures, material costs (some) will go down. Employee turnover here is reasonably fluid so we get a lot of material back to reuse (except certain items I will not reuse such as mouse/wrist pads, headphones, telephone headsets (unless I can get replacement earpieces)
It would be hard for me to pin down a definitive cost because that would vary with the size of the business, but it is less than 5% of my annual budget.
Q: Great job you’re doing, Keith… but curious, how much did you utilize the Honeywell Corporate Ergo Program, part of Honeywell Operating System? You did not reference it at all.
Keith: I honestly was not aware of the Honeywell Corporate Ergo Program other than the one ergonomic training deck I took as a new hire. The HOS or Honeywell Operating System was not even introduced at our site until 2010, well after I had built the program here in Colorado Springs. Our site was more heavily involved in VPP and getting Merit and Star statuses so development of the program focused on those areas initially. Now that HOS is a part of our site (we are Bronze), I am digging into what our corporate program is more and more, especially to support me in building a good MMH program.
Q: question for Keith: what is total number of employees he’s responsible for?
Keith: When we are at full capacity around 800 counting our subcontractors and in house government employees. Everyone in the facility can participate in the program.
Q: For Honeywell – how did you measure the $1.45M savings. WC or medical claims or perceived savings based on BLS data?
Keith: The ROI and savings shown were built from the following:
Industry average costs for each type of injury-material used for corrective actions- labor cost to implement those corrective actions.
The time ROI came loosely from a formula from Cornell University. I conservatively padded the number taking into account that it sometimes takes a week or so for the employee to be completely comfortable, especially if there were a lot of changes to the workstation, set up, input devices, etc.
Q: how has the life of the chair changed with your 6 month pm schedule?
Keith: I think the life of the chairs has been extended because with the maintenance program we can catch issues with the chairs early, before they have a chance to affect more than one part.
Q: Will we be able to download the slides that are being shown?
Q: Yay, so nice to get attention to the PSHFES website! I will pass this along to the current president.
Gene: Thanks to the PSHFES group for assembling a great collection of ergonomic studies that benefit our entire profession!
Q: Can you explain how you determine if a sit-stand workstation will be beneficial? Are they provided based on request alone?
Keith: More often than not they are done when the person requests it, but we have had a couple of instances where I didn’t think the individual could physically handle it due to a pre-existing condition. Those individuals were asked to get something from their healthcare professional before I would build something.
During the assessment process I get an idea of what the employee’s duties will be, if they currently have any physical issues and then determine if seated versus standing would be the best for them. With the use of conversion equipment, such as the systems from Ergotron, you can show an employee the benefits of doing both. I also give them guidelines on standing techniques, movement, stretching, and time limits until they can build up to standing more than sitting. Also these types of stations, with adjustable desks/tables are a great solution if you are running more than one shift and people are sharing the space.
Gene: Sit-Stand workstations can be beneficial and can have a nice return on investment. They can slightly boost individual worker productivity, reduce the costs with providing many ergonomic accommodations required by employees in fixed height workstations (staff consult time, injury costs, cost for ergo accessories, cost to install accessories, etc.). Sit stand workstations can also enable shared workstations for different sized workers, and then allow for multiple shift work and comfortable touch down or temporary workstations. See the recent Ergoweb article on adjustable workstations: Evidence: Investing in Adjustable Workstations Produces Healthy ROI
Q: Have you seen an increase in reported discomfort due to the increase in sit/stand workstations?
Keith: I have had to “coach” a couple of over eager employees who thought standing all day was good, but I would have to say no overall increase. Proper biomechanical alignments are discussed throughout the process. Through proper coaching on how to best utilize the sit/stand stations, I have actually seen a decrease in overall employee discomfort.
Q: You recommend different chairs. How many chair vendors do you use?
Keith: I have three different vendors. Two are for our leased chairs and one is for special order chairs.
Q: what is “VPP” ?
Keith: VPP is OSHAs Voluntary Protection Program of which we here at Honeywell in Colorado Springs is a Star site (recently recertified Star in 2010).
Here is a short definition:
The VPP recognize employers and workers in the private industry and federal agencies who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintain injury and illness rates below national Bureau of Labor Statistics averages for their respective industries. In VPP, management, labor, and OSHA work cooperatively and proactively to prevent fatalities, injuries, and illnesses through a system focused on: hazard prevention and control; worksite analysis; training; and management commitment and worker involvement. To participate, employers must submit an application to OSHA and undergo a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of safety and health professionals.
Our site here is also a member of the VPPPA:
VPPPA provides occupational safety, health and environmental leaders with networking and educational offerings, up-to-the-minute legislative information, industry advancements, preferred vendors and consultants dedicated to VPP, mentoring opportunities, professional development and volunteer opportunities.
I will be speaking at the Region VIII VPPPA Conference in Denver May 2/3, 2012 and the National VPPPA Conference in Anaheim, August 20-23, 2012.
I have been nominated this year for the OSHA VPP Innovation Award for 2012, which is a huge honor for the program and myself.
Q: What is the annual cost for sustaining [ErgoAdvocate] at an employer? For instance, IT support, admin management, monitoring, reporting etc
Gene: The cost for the program depends on the size and complexity of the program we build and customize for you and is largely based on the number of users and the special features we build in. There are no extra costs on your side (the subscriber side) because we host and maintain the program entirely on our servers without the invovlement of your IT staff and support. The site has a comprehensive suite of Reporting tools built in and include custom reporting to your desktop. We continuously monitor and maintain the program for you. Your HR or IT staff may be involved in the early stages if we are establishing data feeds from your HR to our system or from our system to your Learning Management program.
Preventing or resolving just one significant Musculo-skeletal Disorder per year can offset the annual cost of the ErgoAdvocate program. Most comprehensive ergonomics programs including the one I managed for a global financial firm result in an average cost reduction of 80% on workers compensation costs. There are additional savings from improved worker productivity and improved worklife.