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Article # 10111

Ergonomic Solutions Help Curb Rising Workers' Comp Costs

Simply put, ergonomics is the science of analyzing and modifying systems, designing tools, equipment, work stations, and environments for optimum human use and performance. If properly applied, ergonomics can make a great impact on productivity, quality, and workers' compensation cost by removing or limiting the injurious relationships between the anatomy, the task, and the work station.

"More companies are making ergonomics an integral part of their health and safety programs for both white collar and production workers in industrial settings," says Bob Bakon, senior loss-control consultant for ITT Hartford. "As the science becomes part of our everyday industrial culture, it will evolve to encompass all aspects of job-related activities."

Today, ergonomics considers the specific anatomical limitations and applies them to the equipment used and the tasks performed. It establishes the work stations and work tasks so that the human body can perform without discomfort.
Throughout industry, companies are seeing how the application of sound ergonomics can solve some of the pervasive health problems associated with their business.

Easy Rider
At the second largest transit system in North America, one of their biggest problems was absenteeism due to lower back ailments. Since most of the workers with lower-back disorders were bus and train operators, their seat cushions were redesigned. The new design improved the drivers' posture and virtually eliminated the absentee problem.

In addition to reminding the driver to remain in the proper position, the new seat cushions also absorbed much of the shock and vibration normally associated with driving public transportation vehicles. The new cushions, called Ergocushions™, were made with an anti-vibration material called Sorbothane.

"The Ergocushions reduced the vibration that was being transferred through the seat to the drivers," says Grant Brown, president of Ergotech, the manufacturers of Ergocushions. "Test results have shown that vibration is a contributing factor in creating lower back pain and disease."

Back To Basics
Back injuries have long constituted a significant portion of industrial accidents. Any solution for this prevalent injury can only develop out of comprehensive strategy - a holistic approach - that combines plant layout improvements, work-station design enhancements, task redesign, exercise programs, wellness programs, education, and safety devices.

"Companies cannot simply provide their workers with back belts and expect the problem to be solved," says Bakon. "They need to closely examine why and how a task is done."

Bakon continues, "Orienting the employee to the job and the equipment is important, but providing them with the education and training about how to perform the activity properly is an important part of a sound ergonomics program. But, even more important is to design the task so that it can only be done properly. This reduces both training and supervisory time and minimizes the risk of injury."

According to Bakon, educating supervisors and management about proper ergonomic techniques is equally important. "Good supervision ensures that the guidelines are followed by their people," he says.

For any ergonomics program to succeed, according to Bakon, overall "wellness" must be stressed. Workers, managers, and superiors all need to practice good physical and mental health programs in order for equipment and training to work. "Healthy people make a safer work force. They have less serious injuries, heal faster, and generally, have a better mental attitude toward their work. Exercise, proper diet, and an overall healthy lifestyle cannot be emphasized enough," Bakon concludes.