how-to Jun 08, 2021
 

The problems addressed by participatory ergonomics programs are recurrent issues in many organizations, yet implementation of such a program is uncommon. In this post, we're going to talk about your potentially new favorite service deliverable: Participatory Ergonomics! Are you familiar with this type of program? If not, read on to know what this is and where exactly the opportunities are. Find out if this is something you can offer your clients.

What is Participatory Ergonomics?

You might be wondering what Participatory Ergonomics is. Well, this term means actively involving employees in worksite and assessment solution development and implementation, which will enhance productivity and lessen the risks to safety and health. Wilson and Haines (1997) define Participatory Ergonomics as “The involvement of people in planning and controlling a significant amount of their own work activities, with sufficient knowledge and power to influence both processes and outcomes in order to achieve desirable goals.”

I’ve mentioned in other blogs that doing participatory ergonomics interventions was my role many years ago when I was working with the Workers’ Compensation Board. About a decade ago, I was responsible for developing, training, and supporting companies who were interested in building their own ergonomics teams.

Cross-functional team

Most workplace participatory ergonomic interventions involve creating a cross-functional team to lead the intervention process. These ergonomic teams are really useful in industry because there’s usually a lot of jobs that could be improved or changed over time. Often consisting of about 6-12 people, the members of the ergonomics change team are the cross-functional representation of that company. This means that you would have people from different departments and levels within the company, including upper-level management, engineering (if that’s present in the company), shop floor employees, HR staff, and maintenance. Nobody knows the job better than the people in the role, so it just makes sense to let them identify the ergonomic risks and come up with solutions. They could immediately determine whether or not a solution is feasible and decide how to resolve the problem with low-cost, high-impact resources. Workers and supervisors can provide information about ergonomic concerns and challenges in their workplaces, assist in the process by conveying their concerns and suggestions, and assess the changes made as a result of the ergonomic assessment. The really neat thing about this type of intervention is that you can view ergonomic challenges from multiple different angles at the same time. 

Implementing Participatory Ergonomics Programs

You could see how PE interventions are extremely valuable for an employer, because they don't have to always call on experts to come in and resolve the issues as they come up. The workers in their organization, who have first-hand experience with the ergonomic challenges themselves, get to handle most of their ergonomic issues, likely doing the majority of one-on-one office assessments themselves. 

As an ergonomic consultant, there’s a lot of value that you get from this service offering as well. Combining your expertise with the ergonomic team’s suggestions makes it possible to come up with ergonomic interventions that’s fitted to the needs of that specific workplace. There are several ways that you can support these teams as an ergonomics professional because of the efficiencies that participatory ergonomics can give to the organizations.

Here’s where the opportunities are for you as the Ergonomics Consultant:

  1. Training. Typically, the team undergoes training so they can have a baseline understanding of ergonomics. If the employer needs more support, that's a great opportunity for you as the ergonomics consultant to come in and support an in-house team. 
  2. Prioritizing ergonomic risks as they come up. Guide and direct the ergonomics change teams to resolve certain issues and challenges that are higher risk than others.
  3. Follow-ups. Check in quarterly to see if there are coaching opportunities or just to make sure that your recommendations and implementation plans are met. Sometimes, ergonomics change teams just won't last over time. It could be that people change jobs, or perhaps they want to leave the group because they’re just tired. So that’s an opportunity to come back in and retrain that ergonomics team. You could even do yearly refreshers. Maybe they wanted to bring in another employee to the team to improve the morale of the organizations as well. Of course, that new member would require training from you. 

Results

You can come up with your own literature systematic review of the effectiveness of workplace-based participatory ergonomics interventions and share your results with an organization. There are reports suggesting that participatory ergonomics interventions can improve worker’s health. The main results are as follows:

  1. The first result is quite long-standing, and it’s that participatory ergonomics interventions have positive effects on health outcomes.
  2. Participatory ergonomics interventions also had a positive impact in reducing injuries and workers’ compensation claims.
  3. Participatory ergonomics interventions have a positive impact on loss days from work or sickness absence. 

Key Elements to Success and Barriers of PE Interventions

There are also key elements that have facilitated the success of PE interventions. The first would be active support for the program from the entire organization (workers, senior and middle management, and union representatives). The second is the availability of an ergonomic expert, either an active team member or an outside advisor. So there’s a big opportunity here if you’re interested in adding this to your service deliverables. The last key element is access to adequate resources. I've seen this very often when I was doing these types of interventions. This usually has to do with holding those decision-makers accountable for providing adequate resources, including funds, people, and time.

The barriers of participatory ergonomics include lack of acceptance and resources, instability within the workplace, or negative economic conditions (ex. recession) affecting the specific industry sector.

So, what do you think?

Does this post convince you to add Participatory Ergonomics to your service deliverables? Do you see yourself offering this type of service to your clients? Having only one service offering may mean that you’re missing potential revenue. You can leverage participatory ergonomics to diversify your services and increase your revenue potential. If you want to get into participatory ergonomics, by all means, go for it. 

If you want support from an expert in participatory ergonomics, then look no further than joining our Accelerate community. In the Accelerate program, you have access to all the in-depth training, tools, resources, and support from me. I can give you marketing and ergonomics advice, including how to start a participatory ergonomic service deliverable. All of that is going to be happen this June 28, 2021, when I open the enrollment to my program. I can't wait to see you in those pieces of training that are coming. Make sure to join the waitlist here so you’ll be the first one to know when I officially open the enrollment.

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