When a situation is very bad, the effect of ergonomic intervention is generally easy to see. Although the full effect may take months to be clear, there are usually indicators that correct action is being taken within a week or two.
Facing a high injury rate with multiple risk factors, the ergonomist may well start with a few band-aid approaches – quick fix solutions that are often intended to be tempory until more extensive or expensive solutions can be put in place. Over years, an ergonomics program in place can reduce work injury and general absenteeism significantly, saving the company thousands of dollars.
One job I looked at in detail was parking meter coin collection and counting. At the time I evaluated it, the task was highly manual. It included removing and replacing the coin container from the meter triggering coin release into the holding bin, propelling a cart down the sidewalk, placing the loaded coin cart back in the truck, unloading the cart at the coin center, and manually unloading the coins from the cart.
The risks identified were
- Multiple and repetitive fast and forceful forearm rotations in handling the meter key and meter canister
- Frequent forceful jarring to upper extremities in moving carts along uneven pavement
- Heavy lifting (over 150 lbs with a loaded cart) when no ramp access to sidewalk available and to unload coins at end of route
- Static forceful contraction of fingers, wrist and awkward elbow-wrist positions in handling coins
Each of these jobs was time limited and there was a miminal rest time between rotation actions. None-the-less the percentage of injuries over the first year of employment in this job was staggering, at over 50%.
For this particular job, almost all effective intervention would require a large investment by the company. This would need to be budgeted and would take some time to put in place.
Initial approaches included training in body mechanics of arm-elbow hand movement and in lifting, and practice in applying good body mechanics with the existing tools, and cart handling on uneven surfaces and up and down curbs. These approaches provided some benefit and there was a decease in off-work time.
True improvement was gained with the introduction of newer technology in the counting and coin sorting room and in parking meters. Meters were changed out over time to allow use of ATM and credit cards and in some locations to large meter banks. Employees report less back pain and less upper extremity aggravation. Time off for pain is decreasing. It seems the financial drain may be ebbing.
Needless to say, this is not the end of the story. All job modifications have pluses and minuses. Is the problem solved? Only time will tell.
Take Away Meaning
When ergonomics is considered in job design, employee training, and in personal comfort, Employers benefit from a workforce that is healthy and working at peak potential. Work becomes more efficient and enjoyable. No one likes to work in a state of pain. Ergonomics can support this.
The true values of Ergonomics can be measured in improvement felt by the person doing the task and the value it adds to business.