Behavioral-based ergonomics solutions are one of the measures that we often recommend to our clients to incorporate into their ergonomics programs. When properly established and maintained, it can change the organization’s safety culture. Of course, achieving total safety culture with this type of solution requires both the employees and the upper management to maintain compliance. So for this episode, I’m going to show you a perspective on the many levels of compliance in ergonomics assessments and why it's essential (but often not talked about) to get your clients lasting results. I’m going to share key indicators of success and a simple method to improve compliance to behavioral-based ergonomics solutions.
Ergonomic control methods are typically divided into three levels: engineering controls, administrative controls, and behavioral controls. Whenever we’re doing an ergonomics assessment, engineering controls are the most effective and valuable solution to recommend, followed by administrative and behavioral controls. Ergonomics intervention will sometimes rely on, at least to some extent, the worker’s behaviors. For this post, we’re going to be focusing on the third level or the behavioral-based solutions. I'm going to be giving you tips on how to improve worker habits, which involve compliance.
First of all, compliance is defined as the extent to which the client’s behavior coincides with your advice as a healthcare practitioner. So as the ergonomic consultant, you have to communicate your recommendations properly and demonstrate to your clients how to execute them. In fact, I'm sure that you've taken many courses in your undergraduate or your graduate programs that offer strategies and perspectives on how to improve compliance in the workplace. In the past 40 years, there have been a large number of research studies devoted to clinical and academic perspectives on how to improve compliance.
We all know that even if they purchase the best equipment or we set them up in the most optimal setup, it's still ineffective if they revert back to their old habits that are detrimental to their overall health, such as sitting in a perched posture or not taking breaks in their workday. So in a way, it almost cancels out the benefits of investing in equipment. I hope you see the financial implications of compliance and work habits. That’s something to consider when recommending behavioral-based solutions to your clients.
Compliance is important when we're making habit-based suggestions in our ergonomics assessments. To implement an effective behavior-based safety program, it’s crucial that everyone participate no matter the size of the organization. Here’s how we can improve compliance and work habits from both the upper-level (decision-makers and HR representatives) and lower-level (employees) perspectives:
Employers have this misconception about ergonomics that it’s just applicable for people who have a Worker's Compensation Board injury or that we’re going to come in and recommend expensive chairs for everyone. Well, the truth of the matter is that ergonomics is a process. It will work, but it also requires the employer’s participation. Most of the things that I recommend to my clients are low-cost and more process-oriented, so they can establish the steps to prevent workplace injuries from occurring in the first place.
Unfortunately, employers are a little hesitant to go down this route because it takes time. What I found to work really well is to have effective communication with upper-level management. It’s fundamental to make sure that the decision-makers and the HR personnel are committed, and they understand that ergonomics is a big systematic approach. Let them be aware that there's a big upside to ergonomics if they participate and support the program’s goals, otherwise the program will likely fail. The first step in compliance is to let the upper management know that one site visit won’t create lasting change to that workplace safety climate and culture. Oftentimes, it just takes small steps in the right direction. Those little improvements, over time, can improve it. That's really all it takes.
I have an anecdote for you here:
If the doctor advises the employee to follow a particular treatment program and that employee doesn’t understand the causes of their illness or the process involved in the treatment, then this lack of understanding will likely affect the compliance of this advice.
There are a lot of similarities between this anecdote and the way we can model our ergonomics assessments to those employees we’re assessing. If they don't understand why it’s better to place the mouse closer to them, have the monitor set up in a particular way, or use the backrest of their chair instead of perching forward, of course, they're not going to implement that on a day-to-day basis. If you observe any unsafe habits during the assessment, you should let them be aware and provide feedback to correct them. If employees know the correct setup and the correct process, they’re more equipped to understand the risk to which they’re exposed and the habits that they need to take to prevent injuries from happening. I personally like to put this part in the ergonomics report so it can be on file for them to reference.
Evidently, everyone has different learning styles. At the same time, having that moment of clarity when we’re conducting the ergonomics assessment with the client is incredibly important because it's a huge learning opportunity. The employee that we assessed, whether virtually or in-person, may simply not remember what we just told them. This applies in particular when that employee has a huge deadline and they’re stressed at work. They’re less likely to pay attention to the information we gave them. A simple tip that I’ve used in the past to remind my clients is to provide them with little pamphlets. Just a piece of paper with information on how to correctly set up their workstation, as well as the good habits that they need to execute.
We have to admit —after we get used to doing something in a particular way, it’s difficult to change it. That’s why in a behavioral-based approach, a client follow-up is crucial to see if there are any improvements, if they followed your recommendations, or if they need any help with their ergonomic setup. This can be done in-person, virtual, or even by a simple phone call. Here’s my piece of advice: if you’re going to do follow-ups, make sure that it's part of the price of the consultation.
What makes compliance in ergonomics different from other industries is that we have the two levels: the employee level and the upper-level management and support. What I found to be really useful when I do ergonomics interventions is to have good communication with both of those levels. From the sales perspective, good communication will have a huge impact on the next steps in your relationship with the employer.
So, what are your major takeaways from this post? How does it change the way you communicate ergonomics to an organization? I hope you learned something valuable from this post and put it into action the next time you do an ergonomics assessment, whether it's in the office or industry.
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