After all that’s been written and said about ergonomics over the last decade, why hasn’t there been a greater reduction in workplace injuries?
Shawnalea Shelly, program coordinator for Therapeutic Associates Inc., educates workers about repetition, force, awkward postures and environmental factors, but she admits that most of it goes right over the heads of employees.
In my opinion, saying that ergonomics education “is over peoples’ heads” is oversimplifying the issue. People understand the concept of recycling, but that doesn’t mean that everyone does it. I think ergonomics is something people understand in theory but have trouble implementing because it means changing habits, sometimes quite deep seeded ones.
Shelly compares the human body to any mechanical tool: If it’s worked within the range it was designed for, it will last for a long time. However, when the tool is stressed, or used for an unintended job, it breaks.
Managers need to approach ergonomics programs with the same intensity as safety programs. It’s not uncommon to see safety posters throughout a workplace. Ergonomics posters advocating stretching for flexibility, however, even for progressive companies might only be found in the break room, at best.
I agree with Shelly, ergonomics is ultimately about safety. The problem is, ergonomic injuries happen slowly over time, whereas paper cutters and hot coffee spills injure people in a very immediate, tangible way.
Just as safety is about awareness—a supervisor spotting an employee not wearing eye protection—ergonomics is as well. “Supervisors need to be alert to someone not lifting or bending in the proper manner, or a job that causes an undo amount of stress or strain,” says Shelly.
Supervisors telling employees to sit up straight or use their foot rest will probably cause ill feelings and bad relationships between management and employees. Ergonomic awareness needs to be something that everybody supports and stands behind.