These days, many consider ergonomics as one of the central parts of safety programs. As a result, a lot of employers have started applying streamlined ergonomic programs in their workplaces. The benefits of ergonomics are essential to employers, and an ergonomic assessment is usually the first step that Ergonomic Consultants do to determine ergonomic risk and help employers implement such a program. Ergonomic risk is defined as any factors that reduce the strength of body parts and increase the risk of injury. The methods you utilize to identify and assess ergonomic risk in a workplace is an essential element in your whole ergonomic process.
As Ergonomic Consultants, we want a fast, effective, and repeatable method so that we can ensure our services live up to our promises. The observational method is one of the most common techniques used today because they are practical to use in a variety of workplaces. However, there's a better method you can utilize in your approach, and that’s by using the thresholds of ergonomic risk. In this blog, I’m going to walk you through the thresholds of ergonomic risk— what it means, and why we can leverage this to our benefit.
If we think about what our clients and potential clients think of what we do, I believe they view ergonomics as a top-secret profession. Ergonomic Professionals have this “unknown” factor in what we do professionally. When our clients invite us into their workplace to do an assessment, they know that we can help them feel better at work, but exactly what we do is something that is kind of unknown. Apart from Ergonomic Professionals, what other types of professions out there can identify exactly where the risk is to someone, and make the appropriate changes? And isn't that a really fantastic way to think about what we do professionally? I think the value of what we do is quite unique, because if you stick to high-impact, low-cost solutions based on ergonomic risk factors and thresholds of ergonomic risk that are already known, we can make fast and reliable changes.
The great thing about ergonomics is that it’s very cut and dry. Having a clear method helps you recognize evidence easily, avoid the various shades of grey, and recommend effective solutions to your clients. So even if they may not know exactly how you're coming up with these solutions, they know that you deliver the results and that you fix their problems.
Oftentimes, a high-impact, low-cost solution is the most ideal solution to implement. In order to do so, I recommend that you use thresholds and ranges that are based on literature. These thresholds exist in almost every function that you can think of, one example is functional reach. You can find them in various standards available out there. It’s a great advantage if we utilize them because it allows us to clearly identify what's wrong with an assessment and helps us determine the root cause. Most importantly, it helps us come up with high-impact ergonomic improvements that don't cost the employer a huge investment.
High-impact, low-cost solutions typically depend on the changes to the engineering setup of the employees’ workplace, rather than the changes of their behavior and habits. This means that we can change how the workstation is arranged, such as the working height, or the working distances in order to optimize their work setup. Whenever possible, cost-effective improvements should be prioritized so we don’t have to rely on worker habits and behaviors. Otherwise, if we're not using thresholds and ranges based on literature, we're just simply relying on speculations and observations.
Of course, observational methods play a role in what we're doing professionally, but it shouldn't be the foundation to everything that we're doing. You want to make sure that whenever you backup any changes you do in an assessment, it’s done with a number or a value. Any recommendations that we make must be supported by the literature so it's not just opinion-based decisions, but it’s science fact. As a result, we can be really clear with the types of solutions that we make based on that person's discomfort. This makes us look like a credible consultant that they can rely on.
Often this can mean that our clients will bring us into their workplace to do other assessments. We can generate referrals, testimonials, or a couple of case studies out of it. All this stuff is going to be really useful in keeping our business going.
There will be correlations with ergonomic risk. This means that if the person has significant discomfort in a specific part of the body, it should also relate to those ranges or thresholds, whether or not they're in or out of it. I pull on this evidence for every single assessment that I do, and I also teach it in my Ergonomics Blueprint course.
A foundational approach to the process of ergonomics related to what the literature says allows us to come up with really creative solutions that are high-impact but low-cost. I teach that in the Ergonomics Blueprint course, and I give my students the support to do that. If you’re interested in joining, you can check it out here.
I really think that knowing the thresholds and ranges of functional elements of a person's workstation is the best value we can bring as Ergonomic Professionals. And knowing how to get that information is really important. One way you can acquire that information is by checking the standards for your country, and then invest in that specific standard. It may cost you between $200 to $400 to do so. Another great option is to check out my website, I have several resources there for you. I also share a lot of valuable information on my podcast called "The Business of Ergonomics Podcast". If you want to hear about it, you may want to subscribe to be always in the know as soon as I drop a new episode.
And that’s it. I hope this blog changes your perspective on how you do ergonomic assessments. If you’re interested to learn how other healthcare professionals are effectively adding ergonomic expertise to their practice, I have a training for you! I can teach you all the necessary things that will help your business move forward, all you have to do is click on this link.
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