May 2018: New Ergo Injuries, Main Reasons Why
- We’re all creatures of habit, even as professionals. It’s in our DNA, literally. As such, in our earnest effort to protect our employees and help them to attain lower fatigue, lower risk, better comfort and productivity, even the most consummate professionals fall back into past practices in office ergonomics hoping to keep pace with our changing world.
In fact, there are two primary reasons why the odds are mounting against our efforts. These realities combine, in effect, to become a one-two knock-out punch confounding earnest efforts – until you become aware of them, understand, address and sail past them.
Of course, if you’ve been following industry practices including workstation assessments, workstation adjustments and training, what can go wrong?
Yes, you would be correct in pointing out how those past practices, in part, have helped the average percentage of ergonomic injuries experienced by employers to drop from around 48% of total injuries in the 1990’s down to about 33% of total injuries for employers a few years ago.
The reality, as underscored by many company reports, is that the decline of ergonomic injuries as a percentage of overall injuries had flat-lined and then started edging up for many employers in recent years. To make matters worse, everyone knows that “injuries” are actually a symptom of a much larger and costlier problem that threatens your organization’s health, growth and competitiveness.
The World And Your Employees Are Not Static Things
- There are two fundamental issues that must be identified and addressed today as part of your Office Ergonomics program’s Continuous Improvement. Of course, you already know how Continuous Improvement is the important safety valve in successful programs which has its roots in the Japanese management process of Kaizen (good change).
Continuous Improvement is also your forward-looking and wise commitment to adapt as circumstances evolve over time. Done best, it should be proactive and preemptive rather than reactive and borne out of crisis. Having said that, a professional rule of thumb here includes how while it’s best to evolve proactively than reactively, it’s still important to evolve late rather than not at all.
Today’s Riskscape Is Not Yesterday’s Riskscape
One of the two major problems today is that “today is not yesterday“. When most of the science of office ergonomics was first teased out of the data and put into practice in the 1990’s:
- Your employees’ exposures were mostly “at the workplace”.
- They had smaller waists.
- They ate healthier.
- They were a younger workforce.
- They were also more active in their lifestyles.
Today, we now know much more than we did in the 1990’s:
- Outside of work, people nowadays live on technology more than ever for their personal finances, entertainment, communication, etc…
- We have to understand the work impact of hours of Facebook, Twitter and playing games.
- We also now know employees in discomfort are much bigger healthcare users.
- We now know that employees taking Statins to lower their cholesterol are more likely to suffer musculoskeletal conditions, joint diseases and injuries.
- We now know prolonged sitting leads to serious and very real health problems.
Cumulative Training Disorders; The CTD Before The CTD
The second major problem becomes clearer when we objectively step back from the entire process where then it all makes complete sense. Each employee has, in effect, been in a type of training for many years before you came along. The problem is that this previous cumulative training which we’re referring to has been a self-initiated and uninformed yet earnest effort of the employee to develop general computer use skills typically for speed and endurance to satisfy their supervisors.
Now, after those deeply engrained poor behaviors have been forged over years, along comes you and a new notion that there are inherent risks involved with improper use of the computer and workstation. An office ergonomics training course is presented with enthusiastic endorsement by management and a new way of thinking is presented – but can we undo years of bad habits with a training course, some follow-up emails and some encouraging words?
The rub here is that, in office ergonomics, the potential negative outcome facing well-meaning employees is something which occurs over time in a cumulative manner. There is no immediacy of threat such as what clearly exists when training someone how to safely use a high speed metal band saw or other equipment in an industrial setting.
Knowledge Transfer Permanence – Did you know?
There’s been significant study of Knowledge Transfer Permanence and Relapse Prevention. The conclusion is that if learners don’t have continual positive reinforcement post-training, the likelihood of developing long-term new behaviors is unlikely at best and, in a word, remote.
- Experts agree. Immediately after training, less than 50% of the knowledge and skills presented in training will be effectively transferred to the employee’s work even after doing well on the final test. Later, around 6 months after training, up to 75% of the training will be lost without continual positive reinforcement. By the anniversary of the training, employees will retain perhaps 10% to 15% of the knowledge presented in the training without continual positive reinforcement.
- An automated training system series of follow-up emails or messages does not add up to continual positive reinforcement.
People Can Forge New Automatic Behaviors
Just one of the many studies in this area was conducted by the United States Air Force examining which “training transfer” strategies most effectively produced outcomes where people retained what was presented.
Don’t be thrown off by the term Relapse Prevention, which has its roots in the treatment of people with drug additions, as this term is appropriately and commonly applied to generalized employee training by experts.
Here’s an excerpt from the recent Air Force Institute of Technology study: “Management vs No-Management Knowledge Transfer from Training to Real Work Environments: A Meta Analysis. By Robert Toney, Captain, USAF. 2007.”
Relapse prevention has its origins in combating addictive behaviors like drug abuse and over-eating. Analysis of several groups revealed that circumstances causing an initial lapse in behavior after treatment had major implications for further slips and eventual resumption of the addictive behavior. (Marlatt and Gordon, 1980) They constructed a theoretical model to prevent setbacks in attaining freedom from the behaviors plaguing those in treatment.
Marx (1982) proposed a model of relapse prevention to help give managers the necessary cognitive and behavior skills to prevent minor lapses from turning into full scale. The original model created by Marlatt and Gordon (1980) for addictive behaviors can be easily used for managerial training because it views maintenance behavior from a perspective that locates determinants of treatment failure and when those are identified they can be exploited during daily activities to prevent a relapse into pretraining behaviors. Many of the empirical articles detailing relapse prevention use it as part of the experiments when measuring training transfer.
Relapse prevention is important because it enhances the employee’s ability to continue using the methods obtained during training by resisting the temptation to backslide into old pre-trained habits which is imperative to giving the trainee more opportunities to replicate the trained behaviors at work.
The results concluded that in a good post-training positive reinforcement climate the long-term knowledge transfer was much more effective enabling new positive behaviors to crowd-out the old undesirable behaviors.
This is among the core of several primary unique values within ErgoSuite Enterprise.
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