Fred A. Manuele, author of On the Practice of Safety, considers occupational ergonomics to be "the art and
science of designing the work to fit the worker to achieve optimum productivity and cost efficiency, and
minimum risk of injury." To best fulfill the goal to achieve these benefits through ergonomics, a sound program should be developed. A program that includes a written plan, education, training, and effective procedures to identify, analyze, and evaluate work for ergonomic risk factors.
As with other workplace safety and health issues, managers and employees both play key roles in setting the
stage: developing and carrying out an ergonomics program. It's important that management understand the benefits of an effective ergonomics program.
Ergonomics as part of a company safety and health program
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 course are specific to ergonomic risk factors and MSDs, the core principles are the same as efforts to control other workplace hazards.
Reactive vs. Proactive approaches
Proactive ergonomics activities emphasize efforts at the design stage of work processes to recognize needs
for avoiding risk factors that can lead to musculoskeletal problems. The goal is to design operations that ensure proper selection and use of tools, job methods, workstation layouts, and materials that impose no
undue stress and strain on the worker.
Ergonomics issues are identified and resolved in the planning process. In addition, general ergonomic
knowledge, learned from an ongoing ergonomics program, can be used to build a more prevention-oriented
Management commitment and employee involvement in the planning activity are essential. For example,
management can set policies to require ergonomic considerations for any equipment to be purchased and
production employees can offer ideas on the basis of their past experiences for alleviating potential problems.
Planners of new work processes involved in the design of job tasks, equipment, and workplace layout, must
become more aware of ergonomic factors and principles. Designers must have appropriate information and
guidelines about risk factors for MSDs and ways to control them. Studying past designs of jobs in terms of risk factors can offer useful input into their design strategies.
Expressions of management commitment
Management commitment is a key and perhaps the most important controlling factor in determining whether any worksite hazard control effort will be successful. Management commitment is more than mere "support." Support is merely talk, but real commitment is expressed by actually backing up that talk with action that takes time and money.
Remember, support = talk and commitment = action!
Management commitment can be expressed in a variety of ways. Lessons learned from NIOSH case studies of ergonomic hazard control efforts in the meatpacking industry emphasize the following points regarding evidence of effective management commitment:
Policy statements are issued that:
• treat ergonomic efforts as furthering the company's strategic goals
• expect full cooperation of the total workforce 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
• have the support of the local union or other worker representatives
• allow full discussion of the policy and the plans for implementation
• set concrete goals that address specific operations and give priority to the jobs posing the greatest risk
Resources are committed to:
• train the workforce to be more aware of ergonomic risk factors for MSDs,
• Provide detailed instruction to those expected to assume lead roles or serve on special groups to handle various tasks,
• bring in outside experts for consultations about start-up activities and difficult issues at least until inhouse
expertise can be developed, and
• implement ergonomic improvements as may be indicated.
• provide release time or other compensatory arrangements during the workday for employees expected
to handle assigned tasks dealing with ergonomic concerns.
It's important to furnish information to all those involved in or affected by the ergonomic activities.
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.
Promoting employee involvement in efforts to improve workplace ergonomic conditions has several benefits. 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.
Employee participation in an organization's efforts to reduce work-related injury or disease and ergonomic
problems may take the form of direct or individual input. A common involvement process is participation
through a joint labor-management safety and health committee, which may be company-wide or departmentwide 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.
Two factors are critical to the different forms of worker involvement. One is the need for training both in
hazard recognition and control and in group problem solving. The second is that management must share
information and knowledge of results with those involved.
No single form or level of worker involvement fits all situations or meets all needs. Much depends on the
nature of the problems to be addressed, the skills and abilities of those involved, and the company's prevailing practices for participative approaches in resolving workplace issues.
Who should participate?
Ergonomic problems typically require a response that cuts across a number of organizational units. Hazard
identification through job task analyses and review of injury records or symptom surveys, as well as the
development and implementation of control measures, can require input from
• safety and hygiene personnel,
• health care providers,
• human resource personnel,
• engineering personnel,
• maintenance personnel, and
• ergonomics specialists.
In addition, worker and management representatives are considered essential players in any ergonomics
In small businesses, two or more of the functions noted on this list may be merged into one unit, or one
person may handle several of the listed duties. Regardless of the size of the organization, persons identified
with these responsibilities are crucial to an ergonomics program. Purchasing personnel in particular should be
included, since the issues raised can dictate new or revised specifications on new equipment orders.
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.
Taking a proactive approach to ergonomics is so important to the success of the program. Maximizing
employee involvement is one of the keys to a successful proactive ergonomics program. When employees
identify and help devise solutions, they gain a degree of ownership. We value what we own. Ownership
increases the probability that "EC" (ergonomically correct ;-) behaviors are performed when employees are not being directly supervised.