If you ask most employees why they do what they do, the response is usually “That’s the way we were shown to do it.”
Employees can identify some risks in their jobs but may not be able to recognize all of the ergonomic and safety risks they are exposed to. In addition to this, add in multiple personality types and educational levels and you can understand why some of the most basic concepts can get lost in translation. This is why it is important to train and give consistent messages to your workers regarding risk factors they are exposed to on a regular if not daily basis. You should focus ergonomic training towards aspects of the tasks workers can control, such as how to identify risk factors, reduce over-handling and of course how to lift properly.
You may be asking yourself how am I going to train ergonomics on a daily basis? Many health and safety professionals do not have the time to watch every employee perform every single task and then coach them on the best techniques. There must be a better solution! There is: Tell the worker how you want them to do the job. This way you don’t have to watch their every move. The principle is very similar to a health and safety policy whereby you dictate protective equipment (personal or otherwise) and how to use/ operate that equipment.
Many companies have gone to a system whereby the company controls variables in the job using Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). The problem is that even with SOPs, there is a good chance people will do the task without considering ergonomic risk factors. Why not take your SOP a step further and create a Safe Standard Operating Procedure (SSOP)? While a SOP describes what to do, the SSOP also explains how to do it safely. A SSOP should describe how the worker should position their body to minimize the force required to perform the task, reduce the frequency of movement and/or maintain neutral postures. By creating SSOPs for jobs you will minimize the potential for risk of injury because you have control over activities of the job. Of course there will always be extremes in worker sizes that stop the overweight 6’6” man from doing a task identically to the petite 5’0” female. A good SSOP will be flexible enough to allow for these individual differences.
When creating SSOPs you should consider having meetings with the ergonomist, health and safety representative, supervisor and most importantly the workers affected by the procedure. Workers can share how they perform the job and as a group can consider ergonomic risk factors and alternative techniques. The standard work method created may be a hybrid of how multiple people perform the job. The benefit of involving workers in the decision-making process is to aid in worker buy-in. You should also consider utilizing concepts of a visual workspace in your SSOP because of the number of workers that may be illiterate or have difficulty reading. A well-done SSOP has been found to:
• Reduce Errors: The potential for errors during the job which result in lost production, scrap product or damaged equipment is minimized when requirements of the job are clearly and consistently described.
• Improve Productivity: When employees are utilizing proper posture and techniques while performing the job, their efficiency can be maximized and their energy expenditure can be minimized allowing for increased levels of productivity. This subsequently increases employee confidence and competence. By minimizing movements, the risk of chronic and repetitive injuries is reduced.
• Improve Safety: There will be fewer mistakes on the job that can lead to injuries. Providing operating, lockout/tagout, and maintenance procedures directly on equipment gives workers the safety information they need at the exact time and place they need it.
• Improve Training Efficacy: Teaching adults requires information to be provided in various forms to assist in retention of that information. Complete labeling will help employees remember what they have learned in training sessions. They will also be able to help identify risks and hazards quickly.
By giving a consistent message on the expectations of the job and arming your employees with the knowledge of why they do a job in a specific way you will see improvements in both safety and productivity. Hopefully you never again have to hear the response “I don’t know; that’s just how it’s always been done”.
E.K. Gillin & Associates Inc. has ergonomic consultants who have experience developing these SSOPs and in offering the ergonomic training required to give your employees the knowledge base required to “work smarter and safer”.
Andrew Beath B.Sc., CK