When you Google “Human Resources” a featured snippet declares that “human resource activities fall under the following five core functions: staffing, development, compensation, safety and health, and employee and labour relations.” As ergonomists, we are also concerned with “human” resources, although perhaps from a slightly different perspective. How can these five HR functions can be supported by an ergonomist?
When you were choosing a career, did you wonder what “a day in the life” would look like? And if you did, did you ever try to find out? It’s remarkably difficult to find out what you might be signing up for unless you know someone in that occupation. An ergonomist is charged with creating accurate descriptions of jobs which report, task by task, how the job is done and what skills and strengths are required to do them.
In fact, we include photos of a worker performing each task, since a picture tells a thousand words, in much less space! So, if you’ve hired an ergonomist to complete physical and cognitive demands analyses (PCDAs), consider sharing them with your prospective hires. Employees who know what they’re signing up for are more likely to be satisfied with the job!
Some companies are interested in pre-placement screening, and the PCDA is also the most logical first step in that process as well – you must fully understand the physical requirements of the job before you can evaluate whether a worker is capable of completing them safely.
Most of us have started some physical task thinking we knew what was involved, and gotten too deep into it before we realized that we didn’t really have the knack of it at all. (For me, string-trimming the yard, docking a boat, and turning sod come to mind.) During onboarding, employees need to be provided with all of the tools required to complete the job, and this involves some “ergo” skills. What is the best way to grip this tool, pull this fixture, or lift this stack of parts? An ergonomist can identify, document, and provide training resources for best practices, so that new employees can quickly learn all of the “tricks of the trade”. They can avoid the “rights of passage” that other employees endured as they figured out how to perform the job with the least amount of strain. Best practice documents are also useful in return-to-work after an injury, or for supervisors during toolbox or tailgate talks.
Another opportunity for ergonomists to support development in your organization is for us to provide training for some of your skilled labour. Wouldn’t it be amazing if your maintenance folks could integrate ergonomics guidelines into their projects? What if engineers required suppliers to meet ergonomics design guidelines? Shouldn’t your supervisors be trained to develop job rotation schedules to promote muscle recovery? What if IT installed new computers with appropriately adjusted desks, with the screens adjusted to the correct height for the user? An ergonomist can move an ergo program a long way in the right direction by training the various stakeholders in your company.
OK, on the topic of salary, ergonomists rarely get involved. The exception may be in the assessment of demands…our PCDAs have been used to help HR people compare the demands of various jobs.
On the topic of benefits and cultural expectations, ergonomics can certainly influence how attractive your company is to work for. As an example, the many companies in the tech workspace in the Waterloo region compete for the same talent. The tech work environment is notoriously “fun” and “innovative”, but the ergonomics of some of these work environments leaves much to be desired – it’s great to work on a beanbag chair for 15 minutes, but after that, you’ll be hunting for lumbar support of any variety. If I were an up-and-coming techie, I would shop around for an employer who offered ergonomics support – sit/stand furniture that met my specific needs, appropriately adjustable chairs, and ergonomics assessments or coaching. The same is true, of course, in manufacturing, food, municipal, and other sectors. Employers who provide ergonomics support tend to be the ones that care about their team members, and that improves their reputation.
Safety and health
This area is the most logical focus of an ergonomist’s time. We are very interested in reducing injury risk and promoting health. Aside from completing risk assessments and coordinating interventions (which I talked about last week), ergonomists can also contribute meaningfully to health promotion. We can:
- Provide awareness materials that promote good biomechanics (and healthy work habits) at work, and at home. Lifting techniques learned in the workplace will also protect your employees’ health on college move-in day, when they are finding a good grip and keeping the back straight while team-lifting on a count of three, to move that heavy sofabed up the stairs. Bulletins, posters, contests…there are so many ways to promote ergonomic work practices, and keeping the material fresh and visible is key.
- Develop stretch-and-strength programs that complement the physical demands of the work environment. I don’t know what’s been in the media lately, but we’ve had at least 5 calls for stretching and strengthening programs in the past few weeks (that’s a lot!). Yes, we can help.
Employee and labour relations
An ergonomist can provide a third-party, objective (fact-based) opinion regarding job suitability. Whether the employee thinks the job is too demanding, or the employer thinks it is, we can evaluate the demands against the employee’s capabilities, and help to find or create a suitable placement. Our clients appreciate the ability to refer outside the organization for these decisions, and it’s easier for us to avoid the politics and personalities that sometimes muddle up the process. The photo above shows an ergonomist using a strain gauge to measure the force required to pull a dipstick…the keyword here is “measure.” If the employee has, for example, a 5 kg lifting or pulling limitation, we can determine which tasks within a job may exceed the worker’s capabilities, and we can explore how the job could be modified to accommodate. If the limitations are vague, we seek clarification and proceed accordingly.
If you’re an HR Professional, I hope that you are fully leveraging the skills of an ergonomist. If we can help, please contact us. If we can start working with you in July or August, please contact us ASAP – our feature-packed low-price OSE+ program will launch only in the summer!