Workplace Ergonomics: Identify Priority Using This System 

Many organizations believe the misinformed idea that ergonomics is too expensive and the equipment that has to be purchased will be outside their budget. But in truth, economical solutions often generate positive impacts. In this article, I want to share with you a simple approach that builds on top of a typical Worker Discomfort Survey. This approach will help you figure out who needs the most ergonomics help in an organization. The system that I'm going to share with you is based on 3 types of variables: whether a Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD) is present, whether there is worker discomfort, and whether there are other ergonomic risk factors at the workstation. Identifying these variables in the workplace will give us 5 different priority levels, which I’m going to go over at the end. This cost-effective approach is so valuable for acquiring buy-in from organizations who are apprehensive about the cost of ergonomics interventions. 

Discomfort Survey

This whole idea of ergonomics being unaffordable means that we're not getting the reach and the impact that all of us desire. But what I’m going to share with you is an effective approach that will help us identify who needs the most help. This will allow the organization to focus their ergonomic resources. This particular approach utilizes discomfort surveys and other different variables.

The most low-hanging fruit when conducting an assessment is to work with your organization and set up a process. You can easily do this by incorporating Discomfort Surveys into the organization’s injury prevention process. A Discomfort Survey is a practical tool that helps determine, prioritize, and record your client’s ergonomic issues. Making it a part of your ergonomic process will make your assessment so much easier. I used this system a lot when I was managing an in-house ergonomics program. The best thing about Discomfort Surveys is that it’s not only a proactive method but a great way to assess and monitor your client’s concerns by doing a quarterly review of who needs help.

Prioritizing High-Risk Employees

In order to have a good grasp of how I use this approach, I have a nifty example for you. For instance, we have three employees in the office: Peter, Kathy, and Ed. Without using a discomfort survey, all three of them would have equal access to get an office ergonomic assessment. So it’s very much like a “first-come, first-serve” system. But let’s say Peter has a lot of discomfort to be seen and is the most at-risk employee. For someone like him who has a lot of pain, it could technically take a long time before he can get an assessment since it’s on a “first-come, first-serve” basis. This type of system poses a significant amount of risk, especially if we’re trying to prevent MSDs from developing in the first place. 

When it comes to any ergonomics program, prevention should be the foundation. Typically, we start with mediating the ergonomic risks that are already present and put out the fires before we can shift to prevention. However, gradually shifting to prevention is what we want to do. And if you don't have a strong focus on prevention in any ergonomics program, then the program isn’t going to be as effective as it could be. 

Back to our example, we have Peter, Kathy, and Ed. They all have equal access to getting an office assessment, but in reality, Peter was actually in the most discomfort. Kathy and Ed were merely looking for a proactive type of assessment. Don't get me wrong; proactive assessments are also beneficial to any organization's ergonomic program. However, if you’re scheduling based on the priority of symptoms, those who have the most discomfort and other variables should be assessed first within a couple of days or sooner. All others should be planned and seen subsequently. It’s much easier  to streamline your ergonomic process, including scheduling, once you’ve identified your most at-risk employees using Discomfort Surveys and other variables. Although you’ll eventually want to assess Kathy and Ed, prioritizing your time and resources on the most at-risk employee like Peter is better.

The 5 Priority Levels

There are two reasons people would contact you for office ergonomic assessments. The first reason is that people have self-identified that they need to have an ergonomic assessment. They probably took the initiative because they had enough discomfort to warrant them to take action, or perhaps they relocated workplaces, or they simply needed a new piece of equipment. The second way that people could contact you to get an assessment is that they had no idea that their discomfort was at a level that required an immediate intervention (ergonomic assessment). Either they didn't let their supervisor know, or they didn't realize that there was a system put in place in their organization. When I encountered similar situations, I’d normally only hear about their discomfort after an injury had occurred. From that point on, we would schedule an assessment, which usually took a lot more time and resources than the prevention angle.

In saying that, let’s discuss what we can do to determine priority for an organization. I’m going to give you a simple method that you can write down and share with the organization that you're planning on working with. With this, you can let them know that you have this cost-effective system to identify who needs an ergonomic assessment and who needs a more low-cost solution. There are five different levels here, and each one has a different level of variables to determine priority.  This system has a combination of whether or not there's an injury, the discomfort, and the amount of ergonomic risk at that workstation. If you follow this system, you can ensure that you’re serving the organizations and those people who work for those organizations with the best ergonomic solutions. The five priority levels are as follows:

  1. Highest priority level - when there’s an injury, there’s a work discomfort, and there are other ergonomic risks and concerns at the workstation. 
  2. High priority - when there's an injury present, but there's no work discomfort and no other ergonomic risks in the workstation. 
  3. Moderate priority - when there's no injury, but there’s work discomfort and no ergonomic risks in the workstation.
  4. Low priority - when there's no injury present, no work discomfort, but there are ergonomic risks in the work station.
  5. Lowest priority - when there’s no injury, no work discomfort, and no ergonomic risks. Even though this may not warrant an ergonomic assessment, informational products and training presentations can be a value-add.

So there you have it! The next time you conduct an office ergonomics assessment, I hope you remember to use discomfort surveys and other variables to identify priorities. By implementing this holistic approach, you can guarantee that your clients get the best solution possible while still keeping a cost-effective method to office ergonomics.

Discover how other Healthcare Professionals are building their ergonomics business by signing up to the waitlist for the Accelerate program. You can get early access to the training series that I'll be doing before the opening of the enrollment.

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