How can we get employees to use “ergonomic” work practices?

Most employers want employees to use “ergonomic” work practices, and sometimes they are frustrated when employees choose methods that seem “obviously” un-ergonomic. Employees may have the option to push straight on, but they push sideways because it’s faster. Or maybe they don’t use the lift table that has been provided. In offices, the purchase of expensive “ergo” chairs seems wasteful, if employees never adjust them.

The best way for everyone to really buy into ergonomics is to experience the benefits first hand. Try working for just a few minutes in an awkward, repetitive job. You would quickly acknowledge that it’s uncomfortable. In fact, it’s also unproductive, and not conducive to good quality output. And working in an awkward posture doesn’t make you love that job. The experience of working for one minute in an exaggerated “poor” ergonomic condition is enormously helpful in “selling” the benefits of ergonomics.

Ergonomics is, at its roots, about fitting work to people. That often means investing in adjustability, better tools, reducing load weights, and optimising heights and reaches. However, there are many work practices that employees can use, to make their jobs easier, even when you can’t afford to “fix” the job. For example, most drivers do not really know how to adjust their seats and steering wheels for optimum driving comfort. Many people who lift all day rarely think about how they grip, reach, twist, or bend. And countless office chairs are never adjusted after they are delivered, simply because the users just didn’t know how or why to adjust them. Using even the most basic chair features, properly, can make a significant improvement in comfort, productivity, and quality.

As ergonomists, we can’t neglect our responsibility to encourage good work design. However, we also understand that:

  • using that good work design is the workers’ responsibility
  • encouraging the employees to use ergo work practices is the supervisor’s responsibility (and supervisors often need training too!)
  • sometimes we need interim control measures that will mitigate risk until a bigger change can be made
  • workers can learn best practices from each other, and we can facilitate that process, by identifying and documenting best practices, and developing training to share them.

Hands-on training in ergo work practices can help workers to better appreciate why ergonomics is important. It can also help workers to make adjustments to their work stations or equipment, and to use better biomechanics. Contact us for info (519 623 7733 or – we have “off-the-shelf” programs for office, driving, lifting, general manual work, and supervisors. If your workplace employs many workers performing the same job, it may also be worthwhile to develop hands-on ergo training for a specific task (for example, wrenching, transferring large crates, using a knife, or working overhead).  The key, as with most training, is practice in a safe environment.

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