January 2019: Today’s Office Ergonomics Riskscape
First, we wish you a safe, successful and prosperous 2019! Seasoned professionals know that office ergonomics risks are evolving and have been evolving steadily over the past decade. Of course, as risks evolve – then risk mitigation countermeasures must also evolve or injuries will most certainly increase.
The biggest problem facing office ergonomics professionals currently is that when most of the science of office ergonomics was first teased out of the data and put into practice in the 1990’s, back then:
- 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 after work.
- We also now know employees in discomfort are much higher consumers of healthcare.
- 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 and that prolonged standing introduces other physiological problems.
Probably Not The Case For You?
There are many organizations today who endure a recurring cycle starting with a spate of injuries followed by a great focus on injury reduction, a flurry of intense activity, new rounds of online training and assessment and then things quite down – until the next spate of injuries take center stage and the cycle repeats and so on and so on…
In fact, when organizations are experiencing increasing amounts of lost time due to existing and new injuries, they have two primary choices in front of them:
- More, More, More of The Same… Continue the cycle; sound the alarm and call for new rounds of online training, more consulting, more budget and more assessments and more of everything done before. Legacy-constrained organizations, no matter how well-meaning they are, often repeat history and inadvertently perpetuate cycles.
- Or, Seek Out Something Different. Do something to arrest and overcome the cycle. Learn from analogous historical challenges society faced and how they were solved and try a slightly different approach delving into the data-rich world of 100 years of Applied Behavioral Analysis and Operant Conditioning.
From Basics To Behaviors
- Safety professionals can greatly benefit from reviewing today’s regulations in 30 countries covering computer users; which are in effect a form of “Cliff Notes Summarizing 30 Years of Research ” and which identify the behaviors of posture and pacing as prime objectives targeted using adjustable equipment, training, assessment and reinforcement.
Of course office ergonomics is more expansive; however, most regulations address the science-based data-driven core priorities embodied in the government-published Easy Guide For Employers regarding EC Directive 90/270/EEC (European Agency for Safety and Health):
- Decide Who Is Covered:
People using a computer an hour or more at a time;
and use it in this way more or less daily.
- Train Users:
Risks, neutral postures, pacing, adjusting equipment;
Organizing work areas, avoiding reflections and glare, etc…
- Assess Workstations:
Professionally assess priority cases
- Encourage Neutral Postures:
Provide adjustable furniture and equipment
- Provide Microbreak Recovery Time During Workflow:
remind users to stretch and change position;
breaks should be taken before users get tired, rather than to recover;
short frequent breaks are better than longer, infrequent ones;
individual control over work patterns is the ideal
- Provide Vision Testing
- Tell Employees What You Have Done
For any organizations with employees in California who are therefore under the jurisdiction of California’s Title-8 Ergonomic Regulation, these behaviors of posture and pacing (microbreaks) fall under the topic of Administrative Controls and are the main focus after Engineering Controls such as providing adjustable furniture and equipment, which has been commercially available for at least 20 years now in most marketplaces.
Our high tech world is evolving and doesn’t even remotely resemble the world of the 1990’s when much of today’s office ergonomics was set in motion. The riskscape has already evolved beyond what anyone could have imagined back then, however, your program can evolve also and meet new needs so you can turn the tide of injuries and lost time.
Don’t have the formal program (or the one that you think you should have) in place yet?
Gadzooks! What an opportunity you have to either follow other’s footsteps only to arrive at the current problems many organizations are facing today or, unconstrained by the chains of legacy, you can leap over that chronic, painful and costly step.
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