Ergonomists have been advised since the early 1990’s that the essential elements for a successful ergonomics program include management commitment, a written program, employee involvement and regular program review. According to a recently published University of Michigan study, an important catalyst for success includes an informed, independent party of researchers to assume the role of evaluators and agents for change – facilitators in the creation of improved workplace health and safety.
Termed action research (AR), work problems were addressed in a systematic fashion by the researchers and participants with a focus on collaboration following a process that included a series of steps:
- identification an issue of concern
- collection and analysis of data
- development and application of solutions
- evaluation of the process and intervention
- repetition of the above steps
The process empowered committee rank and file workers to offer solutions with the expectation that their ideas would be respected, discussed and implemented as to their merit.
Over a six month period, the AR committee underwent a formative process but also achieved several objectives that included select ergonomic recommendations, the scheduling of ergonomic and HAZCOM training and recognition of the value of collecting data.
The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists
An ergonomist needs to look beyond measuring risk and offering recommendations to be successful in improving the health/safety of a workplace. Significant progress can be made by assuming the role of a group moderator who communicates with leaders, assists in the definition of problems/solutions, ensures that all stakeholders have equal input, and helps divergent groups see common interests.
Other Key Points
This study was conducted at two adjacent plants of an automotive parts supplier in northwestern Ohio involving approximately 300 workers. A labor-management health committee already existed at the facilities but was not an active, problem-solving group.
The AR committee was composed of employees who were key union/management personnel, had knowledge of health and safety issues, were decision makers and evenly represented the two facilities.
These study findings were documented from the beginning of a three year project, a time period that the authors described as “the formative period” of the AR group. Initial difficulties included:
- arriving at research, action, and committee process balance
- establishing an “everyone counts” committee environment with members who are
- employed in a hierarchical workplace
- role definition
- maintaining a focus on hazardous chemicals (although ergonomic issues were also a concern of the group)
Access: This position paper can be acquired at: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/122443643/abstract
Article Title: Building a Strong Foundation for Occupational Health and Safety: Action Research in the Workplace
Publication: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 52:614-624, 2009
Authors: J A Daltuva, K R King, M K Williams, and T G Robins
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2009-09-09.