Proactively tackling risks can seem like an overwhelming feat for ergo teams. Ergonomics-based injuries make up a huge portion of the health and safety risk profile for many organizations and anyone who has waded into the issue will know it’s not as simple to manage as it may sound. Developing an effective strategy isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Organizations, even teams within said organizations, will have different requirements and goals warranting a more tailored approach. Yet, regardless of how your workplace operates, one thing is for sure: getting workers involved in risk management efforts can be an effective way to improve ergonomic program success.
In this article, we’ll aim to answer the following questions:
- What is participatory ergonomics?
- What are the short and long-term benefits of a participatory ergonomics program?
- What are some strategies to enhance employee participation within ergonomics programs?
Introducing: A Participatory Approach to Ergonomics
As far back as the 1980’s, researchers have been evaluating the impacts of Participatory Ergonomic (PE) initiatives on success factors such as risk and discomfort reduction. A variety of PE definitions and descriptions have been suggested in the literature including:
“Practical ergonomics with participation of the necessary actors in problem solving.1”
“Establishing design processes in which the end users themselves can influence the design so that it is compatible with their goals and beliefs, etc.2”
“The involvement of people in planning and controlling a significant amount of their own work activities, with sufficient knowledge and power to influence both processes and outcomes in order to achieve desirable goals.3”
Despite some of the nuances that can be seen when comparing these definitions, it’s generally agreed that PE is the practice of giving front-line workers an active role in ergonomic risk management initiatives.
While adopting a participatory approach requires careful planning, organizations who encourage and facilitate employee involvement in their ergo initiatives can realize a variety of short and long-term benefits:
1) Increased Engagement & Acceptance
Directly involving workers in risk reduction efforts is a practical way to boost employee engagement in your ergonomics program. When employees are empowered to influence change, they are more likely to understand the rationale behind controls and to feel invested in the success of the solutions. This can help to reduce resistance to change and ensure that ergonomic solutions are adopted and used consistently.
2) Better Solutions
Nobody knows the intricacies of a job better than the employees who perform them. Since front-line workers are typically experts on the tasks they perform and the challenges they face, they can provide valuable insight into how the design of processes, workstations, equipment, and tools can be optimized to reduce risk and discomfort. By involving employees in the ergonomic design process, you can tap into this knowledge and ensure that solutions are tailored to the specific needs of your workforce.
3) Organizational Enhancements
By bringing in new stakeholders to participate in ergonomic initiatives, you can open lines of communication and a level of visibility around your program that might not have existed before. Since a variety of departments are typically involved with implementing effective ergonomic controls, solid communication is key for improving the flow of useful information and facilitating more efficient decision making between teams.
4) Improved Bottom Line
When done thoughtfully, facilitating employee participation in your ergonomics program can result in reduced rates of musculoskeletal injuries, helping your organization save money on workers’ compensation claims, medical expenses, and lost productivity. A participatory approach can also increase job satisfaction among workers, leading to decreased turnover and improved employee retention. Also, when employees are empowered to pitch-in with risk management initiatives, it optimizes spend by giving your experts extra time to focus on more complex ergo challenges.
Check out our eBook, Employee Engagement: The Key to Better EHS
to read more about how employee engagement can enhance your environmental, health, and safety programs.
Strategies to Increase Employee Participation in Your Ergonomics Program
Implementing a robust participatory ergonomics program certainly doesn’t happen overnight. However, there are some practical strategies you can consider to better involve your workforce in the risk management process and remove barriers to participation in your ergonomics program.
Effective management support is essential for improving employee involvement in your ergonomics program. To achieve this, it’s important to secure management buy-in. Here are some characteristics of solid leadership support in this context:
- Has the knowledge to effectively communicate the purpose and importance of participation in the ergonomics program to staff.
- Empowers employees with the required knowledge and autonomy to influence change.
- Facilitates participation by providing the necessary resources, time, training, and tools without adding to an individuals’ existing workload.
As with any successful program, implementing structure helps ensure that your efforts to boost worker involvement move in the right direction. Tactics can range from short-term and simple to more complex, and might include:
- Implementing regular meetings with participants to discuss initiative goals, challenges, and progress – no matter how big or small.
- Creating a formal ergonomics steering committee tasked with identifying issues and recommending solutions, including representatives from management and stakeholders from a variety of relevant departments (ex. Ergonomics, Production, Engineering, HR, etc.).
- Promoting continuous improvement by implementing a system to regularly check the effectiveness of your approach and adjust as needed to best support your organization’s goals and requirements.
- Incorporating participatory practices into your organization’s ergonomics policy.
To make the most of your employee participation strategy, workers must be equipped with adequate knowledge to support the activities they’re involved with. This may include being trained in basic ergonomic design principles, identifying physical and non-physical ergonomic risk factors in the workplace, and how to formulate ideas for countermeasures and controls.
As mentioned above, your front-line employees can be one of your most valuable sources of information when it comes to identifying and resolving ergonomic issues. Encouraging and acting on feedback from workers is not only a great way to develop quality solutions, but it can also help to foster trust and a sense of control among employees who see their input being recognized and valued. Feedback can be collected through a variety of methods including casual conversations between workers and supervisors, or through more formal means such as surveys or focus groups.
Employee participation is crucial for your organization’s overall success and incorporating these strategies will help you build a strong participatory ergonomics program that minimizes risks, enhances employee satisfaction, saves money, and allows employees to tackle more complex ergonomics challenges. To learn more about employee participation within ergonomics programs, register for our webinar, All hands on deck: How to boost employee participation in your ergonomics initiatives.
- Kuorinka, Ilkka. “Tools and means of implementing participatory ergonomics.” International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 19.4 (1997): 267-270.
- Eason, Kenneth D. “User-centred design: for users or by users?.” Ergonomics 38.8 (1995): 1667-1673.
- Wilson, J. R. “Ergonomics and participation.” Evaluation of human work: A practical ergonomics methodology 2 (1995): 1071-96.