Ergonomics programs should not be regarded as separate from those intended to address other workplace hazards. Aspects of hazard identification, case documentation, assessment of control options, and health care management techniques that are used to address ergonomic problems use the same approaches directed toward other workplace risks of injury or disease. Although many of the technical approaches described in this primer are specific to ergonomic risk factors and work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the core principles are the same as efforts to control other workplace hazards.
The financial benefits of comprehensive safety and health programs have been well documented. Workplaces safe from hazardous conditions have lower costs due to decreased lost time, absenteeism, worker compensation premiums, etc. [Office of Technology Assessment 1995]. Ergonomics programs have been shown to be cost effective for similar reasons [McKenzie et al. 1985; Lapore et al. 1984]. In addition, ergonomic improvements may result in increased productivity and higher product quality [McKenzie et al. 1985; LaBar 1994; LaBar 1989].
Expressions of Management Commitment
Occupational safety and health literature stresses management commitment as a key and perhaps controlling factor in determining whether any work site hazard control effort will be successful [Cohen 1977; Peters 1989; Hoffman et al. 1995]. Management commitment can be expressed in a variety of ways. Lessons learned from NIOSH case studies of ergonomic hazard control efforts in the meat packing industry [Gjessing et al. 1994] emphasize the following points regarding evidence of effective management commitment:
Policy statements are issued that treat ergonomic efforts as furthering the company s goals of maintaining and preserving a safe and healthful work environment for all employees, expect full cooperation of the total workforce (managers, supervisors, employees, and support staff) in working together toward realizing ergonomic improvements, assign lead roles to designated persons who are known to "make things happen,"
give ergonomic efforts priority with other cost reduction, productivity, and quality assurance activities, and have the support of the local union or other worker representatives.
Meetings between employees and supervisors allow full discussion of the policy and the plans for implementation.
Goals are set that become more concrete as they address specific operations. Goals give priority to the jobs posing the greatest risk.
Resources are committed to training the workforce to be more aware of ergonomic risk factors for work-related musculoskeletal disorders, providing detailed instruction to those expected to assume lead roles or serve on special groups to handle various tasks,
bringing in outside experts for consultations about start-up activities and difficult issues at least until in-house expertise can be developed, and
implementing ergonomic improvements as may be indicated.
Release time or other compensatory arrangements are provided during the workday for employees expected to handle assigned tasks dealing with ergonomic concerns.
Information is furnished to all those involved in or affected by the ergonomic activities to be undertaken. Misinformation or misperceptions about such efforts can be damaging: If management is seen as using the program to gain ideas for cutting costs or improving productivity without equal regard for employee benefits, the program may not be supported by employees. For example, management should be up-front regarding possible impacts of the program on job security and job changes. All injury data, production information, and cost considerations need to be made available to those expected to make feasible recommendations for solving problems.
Evaluative measures track the results of the ergonomic efforts to indicate both the progress that has been made and the plans that need to be revised to overcome apparent problems. Reporting results of the program and publicizing notable accomplishments also emphasize the program s importance and maintain the interest of those immediately involved and responsible.
Benefits and Forms of Worker Involvement
Promoting worker involvement in efforts to improve workplace conditions has several benefits [Lawler III 1991; Cascio 1991; Schermerhorn et al. 1985; LaBar 1994; Noro and Imada 1991]. They include
enhanced worker motivation and job satisfaction,
added problem-solving capabilities,
greater acceptance of change, and
greater knowledge of the work and organization.
Worker involvement in safety and health issues means obtaining worker input on several issues. The first input is defining real or suspected job hazards. Another is suggesting ways to control suspected hazards. A third involves working with management in deciding how best to put controls into place. One NIOSH experience of worker involvement with ergonomic issues is illustrated in Exhibit 2.
Employee participation in an organization s efforts to reduce work-related injury or disease in general, and ergonomic problems in particular, may take the form of direct or individual input as described in Exhibit 2. A more common form is participation through a joint labor-management safety and health committee, which may be company-wide or department-wide in nature. Membership on company-wide committees includes union leaders or elected worker representatives, department heads, and key figures from various areas of the organization. At this level, typical committee functions consist of (1) discussing ways to resolve safety and health issues, (2) making recommendations for task forces or working groups to plan and carry out specific actions, and (3) approving use of resources for such actions and providing oversight. Committee make-up and function at the department level are more localized, since they are directed to issues specific to the operations found therein. Composition here can be limited to workers from the department or area engaged in similar jobs who, with their supervisors and select others (e.g., maintenance), propose ways for reducing work-related problems, including those posing injury or disease risks. Because of their smaller size and opportunities for closer contacts among members, such committees may be referred to as a work group [Davis and Newstrom 1985].
The department or area work group approach appears to be a popular one in addressing ergonomic problems. Factors identified in the literature that are influential to success in these efforts are identified in Table 2. Also shown in Table 2 are factors that can enhance direct worker inputs in workplace problem solving.
Who Should Participate?
Ergonomic problems typically require a response that cuts across a number of organizational units.
= safety and hygiene personnel,
= health care providers,
= human resource personnel,
= engineering personnel,
= maintenance personnel, and
= ergonomics specialists.
How best to fit these different players into the program could depend on the company s existing occupational safety and health program practices. Integrating ergonomics into the company s current occupational safety and health activities while giving it special emphasis may have the most appeal.