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Reduction of office ergonomic risks pays off

Matt Rowden, Eric Gerken

What is ergonomics? Simply put, it is adapting the working environment for an employee to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Injuries can occur in every aspect of the workplace.

They can occur instantly, as in a fall, or cumulatively with symptoms increasing slowly over weeks, months and years.

The cumulative injury is one that can be dramatically reduced if ergonomic principles are employed before any symptoms appear or in the early onset of symptoms.

Providing a workplace that minimizes exposure to MSDs requires the establishment of an ergonomics program, employee education, proper equipment availability and correct equipment utilization.

It pays for employers to be proactive in their approach to reducing MSDs.

A proactive ergonomic approach is much more cost effective than waiting to fix a problem after an accident or injury has occurred.

It costs much less in the long run to adjust or improve an employee’s workstation before the onset of an MSD than having an employee off work with an injury.

According to the California Worker’s Compensation Institute, upper-extremity MSD claims by workers average over $21,000.

The cost is compounded when you consider the impact of poor productivity, time off work, and eventually finding and training replacement workers.With the current economy, rising health care costs and rising insurance premiums, companies are always looking for ways to increase or maintain their profit margin.

Looking to cut costs is one way to increase that profit margin.

Consider this, in addition to increasing the chances of preventing worker’s compensation claims, companies that have ergonomic programs in place can reduce their worker’s compensation premiums by as much as 20 to 30 percent according to some estimates.

Yes, you will have to spend money to develop and implement an ergonomic program, but the cost of hiring ergonomic professionals to assist in this endeavor will cost less than what it would cost for one upper extremity injury.

Many employers are aware of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s push to implement ergonomic standards in the workplace.

Companies that have developed an ergonomic program will more easily transition to a mandated OSHA program when standards are finally instituted Employers frequently feel unable to invest the money needed to make ergonomic changes in their workplace.

Improvements can be expensive; however, some low-cost options offer a good return on investment.

The least expensive and most important action to take is education.

General knowledge about body mechanics, workstation set-up and recognizing MSDs are a vital first step.

Another low-cost initiative is specialty training for risk managers and safety coordinators to foster early recognition and action when a problem exists.

Safety coordinators can also provide updates and reminders to employees on how to maintain a safe work environment.

Lastly, simple techniques can help employees tolerate the demands of a job and reduce MSDs.

Examples include micro-breaks for a quick stretch, or structuring the work environment so that employees change job tasks during the day versus performing the same repetitive or demanding task for an excessive period.

This applies not only to computer workstations, but also to production work.

Employers may respond to an employee’s complaints of discomfort by purchasing equipment that is marketed as ergonomic.

But before going out and buying new equipment to cure an uncomfortable chair or keyboard set-up, the employer should consider having the workstation evaluated by a professional.

An experienced ergonomics specialist can determine if new equipment is warranted.

Workers sometimes merely require some instruction regarding the proper adjustments to existing chairs, keyboard trays, and other aspects of the workstation.

If equipment changes are needed, a specialist can give informed recommendations.

A professional will have supplier contacts to get the employer the proper equipment to meet the needs of the employee.

After installation, a professional will often follow-up by phone or even in person if necessary to insure a good outcome.

The follow-up can be the key to making sure the employee makes the optimal use of the equipment to reduce the risk of MSDs.

Matt Rowden is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant and a Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist.

Eric Gerken is an occupational therapist and a Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist.

They work at Washoe Therapy Center in Reno.



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