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Ergovera's Ergo Savvy Newsletter )

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 We help protect people, your company's most valuable asset June 2003 
In This Issue
A Look at Participatory Ergonomic Programs
Research: Participatory Ergonomics
New: Personalized Ergo Help
Credits and notices

Published by Ergovera Ergonomic Consulting to help you keep up on ergonomic innovations, so you can protect your employees and increase their productivity. Please pass it on to your colleagues and friends.

"Workers' Compensationensation is the number one threat to California's economy" according to Senator Bruce McPherson and several Monterey County business community members who spoke on May 30, 2003 at a public hearing on Workers' Compensationensation held in Monterey. In addition to discussing the Workers' Compensationensation "crisis," one of the speakers, Tony Bruscia of InterWest Insurance Services, discussed ways to decrease Workers' Compensation costs including the use of a participatory approach. He talked about the positive results he has seen with the use of techniques developed by provides training and resources that help improve character qualities like diligence and dependability; the goal is to find lasting solutions to workplace problems.

Hearing about the severe effects of Workers' Compensation on the economy got my attention and hearing about the benefits of using a participatory approach piqued my interest. As I looked at the research on participatory ergonomics, I found that it improves the success rate of ergonomic interventions and programs both in the office as well as in industrial settings (e.g., material handling, automotive), and it saves companies money. I decided to focus on research done in the industrial setting for this eZine to give readers (and myself) a break from office research.

One of the difficulties with ergonomic research that looks at the industrial setting is the evaluation of complex tasks. It can be very difficult and time-consuming to use experts to evaluate situations which have a large number of different risk exposures and multiple workstations. Industrial research conducted in a laboratory setting usually includes non-industrial subjects performing industrial work tasks. Both field and laboratory research do not necessarily take advantage of the industrial employee's knowledge of his or her job.

In addition, industrial settings face the same problem as office settings with long-term employee buy-in, and it might even be worse. Research has shown that participatory approaches increase employee buy-in, improve ergonomic programs, and are cost-effective. Such approaches include ergonomic training, development of active steering committees that implement ergonomic changes, and the use of video-computer systems, used by employees themselves, to identify difficult tasks.

The first study I looked at evaluated a step-by-step participatory approach in a installation company with the goal of reducing musculoskeletal workloads. It involved the introduction of the participatory approach to all employees, the development of a steering committee, analysis and solution identification, as well as testing, implementation and evaluation of the process.

The second study tested the effects of ergonomic training and the use of the NIOSH lifting equation in a simulated manual material handling job. The third study evaluated a video-computer system used by employees to identify high-risk tasks. The researchers found that:

  • When the workers participated throughout the development of changes, it helped to reduce the difficulty of changing their work methods.
  • An expensive participatory project was cost-effective within one year.
  • The most important time for expert ergonomic assistance to be utilized is in the beginning and end of the ergonomic process.
  • After introduction of new solutions throughout an entire company, specific business units exhibited great reluctance regarding implementing changes concerning health and safety.
  • Employees who received ergonomic instruction were better able than those who did not receive such instructions to identify and eliminate risk factors.
  • Employees who received ergonomic instruction were better able to eliminate risk factors than those who used the NIOSH lifting equation.

So as you develop your ergonomic and safety program, look for ways to increase employee participation. With fewer and fewer resources at your disposal due to the economy, it is now more important to be able to determine what your highest risk areas are. Utilizing employees to help you to identify these areas, help find solutions, and give valuable input to the practicality of possible work solutions are all key ways to benefit both the company and the employees - making it "win-win" for all.

Have a safe day,

Deidre Rogers, RN, MS, CAE

A large Netherlands study (De Jong & Vink) evaluated a six-step participatory ergonomics program in an installation company with the goal of reducing musculoskeletal workload. The 7000 employees were introduced to the participatory approach via postcards. A steering committee was formed that worked with employees and management to identify problem areas. The three biggest musculoskeletal problem areas were: manual transportation of large items, work performed in a kneeling or squatting position, and problems while working in a static posture.

A list of possible solutions was generated and then carefully evaluated. The evaluation was based on the following criteria: The solution had to: 1) Have a large contribution to health. 2) Be feasible. 3) Be available or easy to make. 4) Be at least as effective as the old situation. Once solutions were selected, they were first tested before being introduced to all business units. Implementation of the recommendations included procuring 138 devices. Seven out of nine devices were used daily. Later, an informal evaluation process took place that found a decrease in musculoskeletal strain and positive employee feedback.

One of the interesting things about this study was that the company, which found the project to be cost effective within one year, rated the project "successful," while the researchers only found it "partly successful". This was mostly because when the researchers looked at the percentage of new devices obtained per the number of employees, it was only 2%. The researchers recommended that future studies look at more objective health measures rather than employee surveys alone and that they use organization measurements like job rotation or rest periods.

An American study (Saleem, Kleiner, & Nussbaum) evaluated the effects of ergonomic training and the NIOSH lifting equation on the participatory redesign of a simulated manual material handling job. The study used 32 student volunteers and was conducted in a laboratory. In addition, all student participants were compared to two experts who evaluated the same selected lifting tasks.

They found that subjects who received ergonomic training were better able to identify and eliminate risk factors as compared to the control group. The subjects who used the NIOSH lifting equation identified more risk factors, but they did not eliminate any more risk factors than the control group. They were surprised to find that each group eliminated more risk factors in their redesign than they found in the initial identification of risk factors in the original job. Lowering the lift index < 1 (recommended) was only achieved by the experts. The researchers concluded that ergonomic training was very effective in increasing employees' ability to identify and solve risk factors. They recommended that the NIOSH lifting equation be left to the experts and not used by employees.

A small Swedish study (Kadefors & Forsman) developed a method for ergonomic evaluation of complex manual work based on interactive operator assessment of video-computer based recordings using a system known as VIDAR. Seven participants working at a Volvo manufacturing plant were videotaped for an entire day and then watched themselves several days later.

The computer software allowed them to freeze and select various shots and then rate the areas of discomfort in their body with a standard pain survey that appeared on the screen. This allowed them to select specific tasks that caused pain as well as give researchers information on the differences between perceived difficulty and discomfort between employees. They concluded that this type of video-computer system can complement an existing expert-based observation method and increase employee participation.


De Jong, A., & Vink, P. (2002). Participatory ergonomics applied in installation work. Applied Ergonomics, 33, (5), 439-448.

Saleem, J., Kleiner, B., & Nussbaum, M. (2003). Empirical evaluation of training and a work analysis tool for participatory ergonomics. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 31, (6), 387-396.

Kadefors, R., & Forsman, M. (2000). Ergonomic evaluation of a complex work: a participative approach employing video-computer interaction, exemplified in a study of order picking. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 25, (4), 435-445.

Develop more effective internal safety communication with Ergovera's help.

Ergovera will help you:

  • Develop monthly newsletters that address health and safety issues.
  • Develop simple written instructions to encourage healthy behaviors and get employees thinking about what behaviors they have that may be non- beneficial.
  • Evaluate ways to increase employee participation.

Call Deidre at 831.335.8448 or send her a message now for more info.

Copyright © 2002, Deidre Rogers and Ergovera Ergonomic Consulting. All rights reserved. Reuse in any form must be requested and granted in writing.

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