Demands facing the public entity sector remain high, and competition for workers is fierce. Many organizations today are tasked with providing more services with fewer resources. These conditions have raised interest and put a spotlight on the value of ergonomics.
Simply stated, ergonomics involves fitting the demands of a job to a worker’s capabilities. By ensuring the task, equipment and environment are optimized for the employee, not only is the potential for injury reduced, but also productivity may increase.
An Ergonomic Surge
The onset of the pandemic forced the overnight establishment of many home offices and the need to ensure proper set-up of equipment and workstations. While an ergonomic surge developed among those with office responsibilities, interest in ergonomics also increased for those in the field performing more physical and arduous tasks. Regardless of the working environment, ergonomics can prevent injury due to poor position, excessive force or high repetition. Such adjustments and practices are designed to dull the risk and effects of injury, particularly those arising from cumulative trauma that develop over time.
The Impact of Stress
In recent years, many ergonomic initiatives have resulted in improved equipment set-ups, the addition of accessories or scheduling realignments. However, if an organization believes they have made significant efforts toward reducing their physical risk factors and would like to take its ergonomic program a step further, consider evaluating the impact of stress on employees. Just as with physical risk factors, stress also involves an imbalance between the demands of a job and the worker’s capacity to cope.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an estimated 83% of U.S workers suffer from work-related stress. Moreover, it is estimated that nearly one in five US adults live with a mental illness.
Such mental conditions can produce physiological responses in employees that can impact their daily work and make them more susceptible to injury. For example, prolonged stress can increase muscle tension. If this is coupled with repetitive tasks that require force, then it could increase the risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder. Additionally, stress can have a negative impact on sleep. Insufficient sleep can lead to increased error rates that in turn, contribute to higher rates of rework, job repetition and increased risk. Further, stress can have a negative impact on the body’s circulation; and, this may impede an employee’s performance or ability to heal from a cumulative disorder.
These observations point to the need for frontline managers and supervisors to identify employees exhibiting signs of stress and take steps to mitigate stress-inducing conditions. Signs of stress may be seen in increased absences or tardiness, declining performance or productivity, limited engagement or communication, and reduced physical capabilities or daily functioning.
Protecting Employee Well-Being
In these instances, there are steps an organization can take to maximize the effectiveness of their existing ergonomics program and protect overall employee well-being:
- Create a safe space or working environment where employees are comfortable sharing what is driving stress and what steps can be taken to alleviate it.
- Make the employee aware of benefits that are available to them. Many organizations offer an employee assistance program (EAP) or provide counseling for little or no fee as part of their benefits package.
- Introduce ergonomic practices that allow for increased job rotations, workstation adjustments, or more frequent rest periods. Both mind and body benefit from breaks throughout the day.
- Allow the employee to have a sense of autonomy and control over work and scheduling to the extent possible. This includes encouragement to share ideas and suggestions that will improve the workplace and work experience.
- Ensure the organization is complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, and any related federal or state statutes or mandates.
Ergonomic enhancements at the workplace are an excellent way to demonstrate care and concern for employees. However, it is important to remember that ergonomics, like any injury prevention or recovery program, should address both the physical and mental health needs of employees. Only then can ergonomic principles and practices be maximized to achieve improved outcomes and results.
*The views and opinions expressed in the Public Risk Management Association (PRIMA) blogs are those of each respective author. The views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRIMA.*
By: Lisa Orr, MSIE, CPE
Senior Human Factors Consultant, Sedgwick
Summary of Qualifications
Lisa, a certified professional ergonomist, is a senior human factors consultant with Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. (Sedgwick). Lisa has 28 years of experience providing loss prevention/human factors design and research services for a variety of industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, apparel, newspaper/publishing, banking/finance, retail, transportation and public entities. Consulting with local, regional, and national employers, she assists them in developing, implementing, and evaluating ergonomic program strategies. She specializes in the assessment of overall work processes, training, onsite evaluations and analytics.
In addition to being a member of the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, Lisa is also a member of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.
Lisa graduated from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln with her M.S. in industrial engineering (specializing in human factors). Her B.S. degree in industrial engineering is from the University of Houston.
By: Mark Debus, MSW, LCSW
Clinical Manager, Behavioral Health, Sedgwick
Summary of Qualifications
As clinical manager of behavioral health services at Sedgwick, Mark leads a team of master’s level behavioral health specialists. His team consults with claims examiners and clients on complex recovery or psychiatric injury claims. They also work with injured employees who are struggling with the aftereffects of a workplace trauma or who are experiencing other types of psychosocial stressors in their lives. His team helps injured workers overcome barriers to treatment and improve motivation for successful return-to-work outcomes. In addition, he provides subject matter expertise on mental health issues as they relate to the workplace and management practices. Prior to Sedgwick, Mark worked in employee assistance (EAP) and the mental health field in crisis response services. Mark has a BA in psychology and communications from Marquette University and an MSW from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in Illinois.
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