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Ergonomic Assessments: Good for Business… and Your Employees, Too
by Jennifer Seidl, PT

Is your organization looking to reduce workers’ compensation claims, increase efficiency and improve employee satisfaction at your workplace? Having a customized ergonomic assessment of your workplace could be the first step.

Many costly work-related injuries are due to repeated stresses and strains on the body from awkward postures, repetitive movements and fatigue. Incorporating small, but significant ergonomic changes can reduce those stressors, increase efficiency and employee satisfaction, creating a work environment that is safer and more comfortable for your workforce.

 The most common risk factors for work-related injuries are:
• Repetition
• Force
• Awkward posture
• Performing unaccustomed activity
• Contact stress
• Static loading

The main types of injuries incurred in the workplace are:
• Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
• Sprains, strains, tears
• Soreness, pain
• Tendonitis

These types of workplace injuries often affect the back, shoulder and knees and are more prevalent in service and manufacturing industries. However, these and other problems can affect workers having desk jobs, too. Office workers who sit most of the day are at increased risk for serious health concerns (diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers). Breaking up long periods of sitting by incorporating short (two to five minutes) but frequent (every 20-30 minutes) periods of light intensity movement can help build physical resilience and improve employees’:
• Glucose levels and insulin sensitivity
• Blood pressure
• Fatigue levels
• Musculoskeletal discomfort

Low-cost, high-impact changes
Even small ergonomic changes can improve the workplace environment significantly, reducing the incidence of costly injuries and workers’ compensation claims. For example, improving a repetitive work-related task so it encourages good posture, less exertion and fewer motions can make a significant difference — without costing a lot of money.

A homegrown success story
With more than 70,000 of its own employees, Advocate Aurora Health has incorporated ergonomic solutions into its own workforce with great success.
 
For example, some years ago radiologic technologists at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee were experiencing injuries at an alarming rate, resulting in more than $200,000 annually in workers’ compensation and lost productivity costs. A thorough analysis of the portable x-ray process concluded that the root cause of these injuries was ergonomically unsound lifting practices.

A combination of process improvements and implementation of ergonomic principles resulted in a new, safer procedure that essentially eliminated caregiver injuries associated with performing portable x-rays. These cost-effective process changes improved departmental productivity by 18% and yielded significant cost-avoidance savings every year.

Enhancing your workplace’s ergonomic environment can reap other benefits, too. It can boost employee morale and productivity. Employees will take note, especially if they leave their jobs each day feeling less fatigued than before the changes were made. Ergonomic investments show employees that you value them — specifically their health and wellbeing — and that you are willing to invest in a safe, healthy workplace.

Customized ergonomic assessments
HR professionals should be aware that Advocate Aurora Health offers customized ergonomic workplace assessments focused on creating a productive, yet comfortable workspace, while keeping an eye on costs.

Ergonomic specialists can evaluate employees’ workstations and provide innovative, cost-effective recommendations for environmental changes, including:
• Appropriate chair selection and fitting  
• Workstation organization for efficiency and reduced upper body strain
• Improved lighting to reduce eyestrain and neck pain
• Proper keyboard, monitor, mouse and telephone placement
• Recommendations for reducing environmental stressors, if applicable
• Coaching on proper body mechanics, especially for lifting

One size doesn’t fit all
A comprehensive ergonomic assessment should be tailored to:
• Your organization’s own environment
• Your employees’ specific needs
• Exact task requirements that employees need to perform

Post-assessment reports should include:
• Instructions on proper body mechanics and specific stretching exercises
• Directions on how to maintain an ergonomically friendly workstation
• Recommendations for modifying current equipment
• Options for increasing workstation productivity and employee comfort

Creating an ergonomic-focused workplace is a sound business investment — not only a business expenditure. Maintaining a poor ergonomic work environment can often lead to frustrated, fatigued employees who are less comfortable (and less productive) and unable to do their best work.

Successful companies integrate ergonomic principles into their day-to-day operations because of the proven benefits of doing so. They know it’s the right thing to do — both for their bottom line and the wellbeing of their employees, who remain their most valuable asset.


Jennifer Seidl, PT, MS, Executive Director - Rehabilitation Services. To learn more, visit https://www.aurorahealthcare.org/services/physical-therapy-rehabilitation
 
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