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A Measured Approach to Ergonomics

December 12, 2011 | Comments: 0 | Views: 159

A critical aspect of establishing an ergonomics system to reduce injuries is establishing metrics. What should you measure yourself against? How do you know when you are doing well? This is so daunting that some health and safety professionals just take the 'do-nothing approach' or only act when absolutely necessary, which occurs after a rash of injuries.

To avoid paralysis or extremely reactionary approaches to ergonomics, there are several things you need to consider when setting objectives for your ergonomics process. The first consideration, can you measure it? The second, does it help you improve or drive continuous improvement? And, do you change your metrics to reflect the maturity of your ergonomics process?

There is no golden metric or set of measures that fits all approaches. Safety professionals know that compliance, control, and prevention are three different things in safety. It is no different with ergonomics. Ergonomics metrics can range from minimal compliance using external regulations, to injury prevention based on risk mitigation for unusual events and aging populations.

Compliance is a common approach to ergonomics metrics. However finding the measures for ergonomics compliance is more onerous than safety or hygiene, where prescriptive ergonomics have existed for years. Outside the U.S., public agencies provide some direction for ergonomics compliance. The EU and Australia have public domain documents that provide guidance on 'safe' ergonomics levels. In the U.S., outside California, many public documents are - unfortunately - outdated. However there are a few exceptions and the latest ANSI 100 Office Ergonomics Guideline and good old NIOSH Lifting Equation, are a few of the bright lights in a darkened landscape.

Companies select quantitative specifications from these types of references and measure compliance to these specifications. The 51 lb. (23 kg.) lifting standard is an example. Are all manually handle tasks less than 51 lb? - becomes a metric. These specifications are common starting points, and you if you lack metrics, identify your common injury issues and select specifications to work towards.

The sad reality is, regulatory specifications are generally insufficient to control injuries. Public standards promote minimal compliance. Compliance is a baby step toward control and prevention. Ergonomics standards require additional insight to achieve control. The lifting limit is a good example. Setting a single number for safe lifting may leave workers in many lifting tasks exposed to risk.

Although these weight specifications meet the first consideration for metrics; you can measure them. They don't drive continuous improvement and, as a result, you do have to change your metrics to mature your ergonomics process, and ultimately gain control over injury risks related to poor ergonomics.

Next time, we will get into continuous improvement and maturing metrics to control and prevent injuries and also react to unexpected events.

Learn how to reduce injuries and establish a world class ergonomics system with Auburn Engineers. Stephen Jenkins is Vice President and a Senior Consulting Ergonomist with Auburn Engineers Inc. His clients include a diverse array of Fortune 500 firms. At Auburn Engineers, Ergonomics is our Passion and our Business!

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Source: EzineArticles
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