From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

You Can Learn a Lot From a Robot

Playing games at the office has never really been in vogue.  But in 2000, repetitive motion injuries — injuries caused by something as seemingly innocuous as typing or scanning groceries — resulted in a median of 19 days away from work per injury, an increase of four days from 1998 and two days from 1999 according to a U.S. Department of Labor survey.  For workers’ compensation insurers like The Zenith, statistics like this can be bad news. That’s why The Zenith encourages its clients to play games at the office, or at least one game in particular.

The game is Risky Robots, and, no, it isn’t quite ready for Xbox or Nintendo, but that was never the intent.  The goal of the game created by The Zenith is for the user to identify risky workplace habits, like not taking breaks, repetitive motion hazards, lifting and twisting problems.  Habits that could result in injuries that workers’ compensation insurance might have to pay out on.  And habits The Zenith wants to encourage their customers to break.

Dan Hair, Senior Vice President with The Zenith knows ergonomics problems for workers’ compensation claims all too well. When you work for an insurance company specializing in workers’ compensation claims — the exact claims that arise out of statistics like the ones from Department of Labor — statistics like these show up in The Zenith’s  bottom line.

But The Zenith is trying to combat these claims, not by dispute, but by using forward-thinking techniques like the Risky Robots and a strong commitment to assisting customers with ergonomics.

“Soft tissue injuries that arise out of manual lifting and repetitive work using the hands, arms and shoulders are two of the top sources of loss to our company, as well as all business nationally,” says Hair.  Financially, they can hurt.  And the only way to really treat the issue before it becomes a problem is through support and education. “Effective ergonomics programs . . .contribute to a positive workplace culture, and generally result in a more effective use of company resources,” says Hair.  Overall, they make sense.

There’s more to it than a team of accident-prone robots.  The Zenith’s website ( offers tools and information on ergonomics to check a company’s EQ (Ergonomics Quotient), to explain 6 Ergonomics Habits of Highly Successful People, to teach through an interactive Office Ergonomics screen that explains simple concepts like foot rests and eye comfort, and to run through a Safety Bot checklist to see if a customer’s work environment is safe.  And that’s not the half of it.

“We work with customers to ensure the effective application of [ergonomics programs]. We work with executive management to make sure that these issues are addressed in a comprehensive and long-lasting fashion. We are involved in industry-wide professional education that involves teaching other professionals as well,” says Hair.  For The Zenith, that equals fewer workers’ compensation pay outs.  For employers, that means less time lost to ergonomics injuries. And to workers, that means a better overall experience on the job.

Hair believes that a strong ergonomics program in itself can boost the morale and improve the atmosphere in a workplace. He notes that while an ergonomics plan satisfies other business requirements, in the end, it’s the employees who count. “We teach customers how to prevent these losses from occurring, as well as how to manage disabilities when they do occur. We remind them of their legal and moral duty to give worker protection their best efforts and we find that the majority of our customers are committed to ergonomics.”

For The Zenith, ergonomics is more than just talking to an HR or safety manager.  The company offers programs that instruct the worker, the employer, and The Zenith agent.  Learning about ergonomics from the ground up stresses the importance to everyone in the company, particularly the employee who is most subject to an ergonomics injury.  And customers can see the benefits of a company-wide ergonomics program in their bottom line.

But sometimes, Hair admits, there is an up front price to pay for a solid ergonomics program, one that employers may never really be able to visualize until they see the increased productivity and money either saved or earned.  Small businesses, says Hair, have tougher times committing to the financial resources and often need greater assistance in evaluating any ergonomics-based expense. “[However] objections often disappear as business owners come to understand the costs of inaction. As a group, they want to protect their employees and we find they respond well to thorough [The Zenith’s] evaluations coupled with thoughtful, effective interventions. If our staff can make an effective case that an ergonomics program makes good business sense we usually gain the support we need.”

“Our assistance includes providing resources through our website and independent agents as well as direct consulting activities which include risk assessment, suggesting interventions and training of management,” says Hair.  Additionally, says Hair, ergonomics doesn’t have to be costly.  “Many ergonomic interventions are inexpensive. They may involve simple relocation of items in the workplace, inexpensive modifications to better fit the task to the worker, rotation of employees so that adequate recovery time and rest is provided or other cost-efficient actions,” he says.  But when there is a cost involved, The Zenith will provide its customers with a cost-benefit analysis – a little something to lessen the impact.

As for the Risky Robots, they’re the fun part of the package, but persuasive in their own rite, and they help Hair and everyone at The Zenith achieve their goal. “If our staff can make an effective case that an ergonomics program makes good business sense we usually gain the support we need,” Hair says.  Computer games notwithstanding, there’s nothing unfashionable about that.

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2002-12-01.