Ergonomics is simply defined as, "the study of people in their work environments." This definition may sound simple but every year there are thousands of workplace injuries which stem from poor ergonomic practices in the workplace. Poor ergonomic practices can lead to the development of musculoskeletal conditions, conditions that in 2013 accounted for 33% of all worker injuries in the U.S. This equates to billions of dollars spent by companies for conditions that are 100% preventable.
An ergonomic assessment is one-way companies can lower the risk of injuries to their employees, but the benefits go far beyond injury prevention. Proper ergonomic practices increases employee engagement, lowers fatigue, and can also increase productivity. However, before a company rushes to bring in an ergonomic specialist to assess the workplace, business leaders should first analyze their workplace for signs that an ergonomic issue may be present. Let's take a look at some warning signs which may trigger a need for an ergonomic evaluation.
Increase in Employee Injuries
This is an obvious sign that something is off when it comes to internal operations, however in some industries with higher than normal injury rates this could be a warning sign that is lurking in the shadows. An increase in employee injuries could be a part of an adverse trend of injuries occurring not due to sudden events but directly related to work practices. An ergonomic evaluation would be able to analyze employee injuries to find the true root cause. If a company is seeing a rise in employee injuries due to common causes, such as lower back pain, this could be a sign to bring in an ergonomic professional to assess the internal operations of the business.
Repetitive Motion is Everywhere
When employee job duties require an abundance of repetitive motions, these workers are at a higher rate of injury than those employees whose task are less routine. Repetitive motions can lead to an array of musculoskeletal injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), tendinitis, or chronic back pain. The main problem with ergonomic injuries stemming from repetitive motions is they are usually not sudden and develop over a period of time. This long term development can hide beneath the surface until one day an on-the-job injury occurs. Business leaders should assess their work environment; if there is an abundance of repetitive motions to complete job duties, ergonomic-related injuries could be closer than you think.
Productivity is Declining
If employees are working in an environment that is not suited to their capabilities, productivity can suffer. For example, if employees on an assembly line are constantly overexerting their bodies to complete tasks this leads to employees becoming fatigued, which impacts productivity. Companies should keep a close eye on their employees' health, looking for signs of fatigue and other adverse effects of improper ergonomic practices. One quick, simple way to see if employees are being worked past their limits is to distribute a workplace survey with specific questions related to productivity. This can go a long way in seeing how ergonomics can play a major role in decreasing employee fatigue and increasing overall productivity.
Safety Culture is Lacking
A lack of safety culture within an organization can be one of the biggest signs that an ergonomic evaluation may be warranted. Safety should a top or one of the top priorities of any company regardless of industry. Companies owe their employees a safe environment, if a safety culture is antiquated or not aligning with the vision of the organization, workplace injuries could be right over the horizon. If safety culture is lacking it may be a great sign to bring in an outside ergonomics professional to assess the work environment of the employees. Not only will this help lower ergonomic-related risks but can also improve employee morale which can go a long way in helping the business meet its objectives.
Employee Engagement is Waning
Employee engagement is a major human resources issue in 2019 and has been for some time. Today, employee engagement is one of the top reasons companies are losing talent to other organizations which place a higher emphasis on engaging employees. Some employees will even accept culture over compensation when it comes to being engaged in their work and feeling a sense of purpose in why they are doing their jobs. First, business leaders must identify if there is an issue with employee engagement, this can be achieved with group meetings or company-wide employee surveys. If a company receives less than stellar feedback on employee engagement, this could be a sign to conduct an ergonomic evaluation to see if job roles are feeding the employee engagement issues. Employees who are comfortable in their work environments will be more engaged than those who feel their company does not put their employees first.
Ergonomic-related issues cost U.S. businesses billions in operational costs per year, which can be mitigated through a focus on ergonomics in the workplace. Employee work environments are something that should be reviewed consistently to ensure workers are given the exact resources needed to provide value for the organization. If any of the signs above are present in your organization, it may just be time to see what an ergonomic evaluation can do to lower costs and increase employee productivity and engagement.
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