Have you ever tried to put together a jigsaw puzzle without having seen the picture of what it's supposed to be? That's what happens when you try to piece together ergonomic assessments in the office without knowing OUTCOMES.
When I do ergonomics assessments in the office I like to keep it simple and use the exact same process for every assessment. I'm going to share with you the exact same 7-steps I use for each time I help a client get down to the root cause of their discomfort.
And it works like a charm.
Why? Well I like to keep it as Simple As Possible for each assessment I do.
The process that I'm going to share with you peels away the layers of the ergonomics 'onion', so your assessments are faster and more effective. But, before I do that, let's go into the reasons why a pre-developed strategy is so useful before starting doing ergonomics assessments.
Tony Robbins preaches the value of using a roadmap to get you from Point A to Point B. He talks about the power of modeling, to make our dreams a reality and preaches that excellence CAN be duplicated. If other people can do something, all you need to do is model them with precision and you can do exactly the same thing, whether it's driving, making a tuna casserole, or doing an effective office ergonomic assessment (wink, wink).
I'm going to share with you the exact same 7-step process that I use for every single office assessment.
One last thought before we dive into the content. While I was writing this blogpost, I was reminiscing about when I first started doing office ergonomic assessments. I wish that I had a resource (like I've developed in this blogpost, hint hint) that I could've referenced. Instead I was left scouring the internet and ergonomics journals hopelessly looking for a fully developed process that I could just apply to office ergonomics. It wasn't until I found a mentor that I finally got clarity and it was at this point that I was off to the races... think of all of those wasted months where I was trying to piece it all together myself!
Thinking back to when I first started doing ergonomics assessments, I wish that I had this. That's why I developed the Ergonomics Blueprint Course - the course is currently closed so I can focus on getting my current students results, however there is a sign-up form here. This way you can be notified when the course opens again!
The Discomfort Survey is the secret that every ergonomics assessor should have up their sleeve. Basically a Discomfort Survey is a form that collects really specific information about how your client spends their day, what equipment they use, and probably most importantly the severity and location of any discomfort!
Discomfort Surveys are distributed a week (or at least a day) before the actually assessment is booked. This gives you, as the assessor a major advantage to develop some 'best guesses' as to what you may end up seeing during the assessment - of course your assumptions may be totally off but knowing this information before you get started can certainly save you a lot of time!
One last thing about Discomfort Surveys - since you are getting your client to document how they spend their day, their discomfort, etc, it allows you to reference this data when writing your reports. Trust me, if you have ever done more than a few office assessments in a day you know how easily mistakes can happen! It's just another reason why Discomfort Surveys are so useful!
One of the BIGGEST MISTAKES that I see novices make is that they skip interviewing and collecting data and jump directly into making adjustments to someone's workstation! I don't want to make you defensive, because I have certainly been there too!
The reason why this step is so important and should be the FIRST thing that you do when you start an assessment is that it sets the tone. You get extremely valuable information about that person's discomfort, ergonomic concerns, personal opinions to the reason behind their discomfort in addition to how that person spends a typical day.
This is valuable because understanding your client's work tasks allows you to tailor the ergonomic assessment to that. We all know that not all computer workstation tasks have the some requirements and understanding the interplay between them and identified ergonomic risks is what sets novice apart from an experienced assessor.
Next up are the Physical Measurements! In my opinion, this is what makes office ergonomic assessments so cool! 😎 Why? Well just by pulling out your measuring tape and measuring various heights and distances in your client's workstation allows you to paint a black and white picture of the ergonomic risk.
Taking physical measurements of the workstation is incredibly useful because you can literally pinpoint where and how severe your client's ergonomic risk is. This data then forms a 'business case' for the value of any of the equipment suggestions that are required!
This adds a sense of clarity and relief for both you and the client (and their employer) that you are making decisions based on accredited ergonomic standards! Total game changer to add to your assessments if you're not already doing this!
Observing how your client sits in their chair, types on their keyboard, or uses their mouse is also an important step to include in your assessments. But, as I mentioned above, the biggest value is when postural observations are combined with physical measurements.
There's a number of ways to do this. Personally, I like to keep things as simple and easy as possible especially when someone is just getting started doing ergonomics assessments and that's why I still use an ergonomics assessment tool. I've developed one that I teach in the Ergonomic Blueprint course.
Ok, back to postural observations. There are simple seated postures that you just need to watch. The biggest, in my opinion, is how the person is sitting in their chair because any improvements and adjustments you suggest can have a huge impact on their comfort!
Let's move onto pictures. It may seem a little cliche, but pictures add a lot of value to the assessment. During the assessment you want to first ask your client for their consent to take any pictures. Reasons why they wouldn't consent include if they just don't like to have their pictures taken or if they work with sensitive information. Either way, it's best to check before snapping!
Here's the list of pictures that you'd want to take: side (aka sagittal) view, view from behind your client, any especially awkward postures, and any equipment that may need to be replaced. Additionally you'd want to capture before adjustments/after interim adjustments so your client can really understand where all the ergonomic risk is.
I'm a firm believer that the majority of ergonomic challenges can be solved by just adjusting the client's current workstation to currently fit them; heck it may even be up to 90 per cent of the cases that I see.
Adjustments are the cumulative of everything up to this point in an ergonomics assessment. Based on all the data that you have collected (interview, job description, physical measurements, postural observations, and pictures) you perform a root cause analysis. A root cause analysis is where you look at all the co-related factors and determine the one main reason or determining factor that is the reason why your client is reporting discomfort.
The method that I use is called the 5 WHYs, where you simply ask why 5 times until you get to the root cause of the situation that you see. The main benefit of doing a root cause analysis for every assessment is that you don't make the mistake of treating the symptoms of the client which will always lead to less effective outcomes for your client.
At this point I would make any necessary adjustments to that person's workstation. It could be that the monitor needs to be raised/lowered, the chair needs to be adjusted, or other simple solutions that can be implemented during the assessment. Although this seems really simple to do, in many cases it takes a new perspective to really understand and make incredibly useful suggestions to the client that will make their discomfort disappear... or at least drastically improve!
The last part of the office ergonomic process is to write the report. This is your way to document any concerns from the client, what you observed and measured, where any ergonomics concerns were, and then what you suggested to mediate those concerns.
It's written in a concise way that the client would be able to understand in a way that highlights the major areas of concern as well as what steps were taken during the assessment to mediate it. On top of this, with assessment reports, recommendations are made to reduce the ergonomic risk, the most valuable of them are equipment (aka engineering) solutions. This is where you would recommend a piece of equipment - whether that be a new chair, mouse, or keyboard, and give the reason of what ergonomic concerns it will improve upon and then a few vendors that could service your recommendation.
A word to the wise here. Always check with management to get an idea of budget and future plans before you recommend anything. This is so you can make high value / low cost solutions that target the root cause of the situation instead of just recommending a 'sit-stand desk' or other expensive solutions.
If you are like me, keeping ergonomic assessments as simple as possible is so advantageous. Why? Well it allows me to focus on more complex issues instead of trying to reinvent the wheel every time. This 7-step process along with the tools that I mention does this along with documenting the process.
If you are into what I shared with you in the post and you want to learn how you can get started doing ergonomic assessments click this link and sign-up for the waitlist. I'll be able to let you know exactly what enrollment for my course opens again!
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