Last year, we attended a panel discussion at a local innovation conference, on the topic of “Transformation and Innovation”. Here are some key points:
Promoting an innovative culture is a way to grow economically. Innovation creates new products. In an innovative culture, problems are seen as opportunities. (Can’t see your phone screen?….let’s make it bigger!) By contrast, the fear of innovation, in other cultures, hinders change. For example, contractors might resist change, unless there is a threat of contract withdrawal. Price pressure, fear of failure, and fear of the unknown are also major reasons to oppose change. Before any change is made, innovators must prove that a benefit is attainable.
Most companies are in the business of compliance. They do what they have to do in order to stay out of trouble. Companies often look for quick fixes instead of risking investments in multi-year, multi-million dollar development projects. Quick fixes are exactly that: solutions which temporarily “fix” the issue at hand, but do not resolve it at the root.
Innovation is key in ergonomics. During ergonomics assessments, we evaluate the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). If risks are present, we collaborate with key stakeholders to come up with a solution. We sometimes can apply technology or ideas from one industry in a totally different environment. For example, a tilt stand that is used as a document holder in an office environment might be used to position electronics within a better line-of-sight at a high-tech manufacturing company. At our bi-weekly team meetings, our team brainstorms, to take advantage of our collective experience.
Innovation in ergonomics needs to focus on creative and effective solutions. Research has shown that solutions that eliminate or minimize exposure to risk factors (often called “engineering controls”) are more effective in reducing injury risk than solutions that rely on employee technique changes (often called “administrative controls”). Ergonomic interventions that rely solely on employee behaviour, such as training to improve lifting techniques, are only 10-20% effective. By comparison, ergonomics interventions that reduce the duration of exposure, such as optimising job rotation so each worker is only exposed to a repetition hazard for a short time, are 20-40% effective. Changes that reduce the level of exposure, such as reducing push forces or optimising heights, are 40-60% effective, and interventions that eliminate exposure, such as hoists to handle weights instead of people, are most effective (60-100%, Goggins et al., 2008).
So, innovate away, but focus on changes that limit or eliminate the exposure to workplace hazards!

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