Early on in my career as a certified professional ergonomist, I became fascinated by the value of ergonomics as a process change agent and influencer on many aspects of organizational design and management. There are several key concepts and people who helped me to formulate the Worksite International Ergonomics Process as it is today as reflected in the Ergonomics Process Influence Model.
The Early Influencers
In 1994, I met Dr. Andy Imada, one of the authors of Participatory Ergonomics. Dr. Imada introduced me to the value of listening to the employee regarding their perception of work, concerns and solutions. After helping several organizations implement ergonomics programs using a participatory approach, I wrote my first book, "Your Guide to Developing an Ergonomics Process" published by CRC Press in 1999.
The purpose of participatory ergonomics is to engage employees in understanding and learning ergonomics to help them avoid injury and improve their health and safety. At the same time, I realized ergonomics is a quality-driver, impacting a continuous improvement process by helping organizations reduce the risk of work injury while improving productivity. This aspect was influenced by Dr. Edwards Deming, the father of Quality and the Toyota Way of lean manufacturing, which looks to avoid wasteful motions and more.
Another important influencer and thought leader that contributed to my thinking was Dr. Hal Hendrick and Brian Kleiner in 2001 regarding their concept of macroergonomics.
Macroergonomics is a systems approach to ergonomics. It is defined by the late Dr. Hal Hendrick as “a top-down socio-technical systems approach to work system design, and the carry through to the design of jobs, hardware and software."
Macroergonomics further validated the concepts I used in my book to develop a lean, participatory ergonomics process serving to generate quality outcomes for my clients.
Those were the early years of my career. Each experience documented in various scientific outcome studies from 1994-2015.
Fast-forward to now, where we are in a period of rapid social and technological change (macroergonomics accelerated) as the pandemic continues, impacting all aspects of humans at work.
It's time for a new ergonomics process model!
What Purpose Do Models Serve?
Models are representations that can aid in defining, analyzing, and communicating a set of concepts. System models are specifically developed to support analysis, specification, design, verification, and validation of a system, as well as to communicate certain information.
In science, a model is a representation of an idea, an object or even a process or a system that is used to describe and explain phenomena that cannot be experienced directly. Models are central to what scientists do, both in their research as well as when communicating their explanations.
Ergonomics Process Influence Model Explained
My new model is focused on the impact and influence the science of ergonomics has on key organizational processes.
Ergonomics is a change agent! It changes how the individual works and how the organization operates!
Including the science of ergonomics in organizational wellness programs, safety programs, workers' compensation and disability management is essential to help preserve employee well-being and performance.
Ergonomics is a critical component of medical management for non-occupational and work-related injuries to keep employees at work or return to work. Millions of dollars can be saved when ergonomics is used to help work injury prevention, management and assist with accommodation of workers.
The influence of ergonomics on information technologies is clear. The selection of the right technology, both hardware and software along with the implementation of it are influenced by ergonomics. Select a poorly designed software and employees are destined to mouse click over 1000x/hour. Correct sourcing of keyboards and pointing devices, monitor selections, laptops, docking stations all impact employee well-being and performance. The equipment and software IT selects and the manner they set it up can be the precursor to your work injuries if not done correctly.
Then, there is the facility planning process. When ergonomics is applied to the facility design process, the human is integrated into the outcome. Making sure case work and cubicles are set at the most functional height, ensuring the design will support the task performed, fit the equipment needed, and be within easy reach are paramount ways ergonomics influences design.
One of the most important areas that should always be influenced by ergonomics is the purchase process. Unfortunately, most purchasing managers have never taken more than an hour of ergonomics training at best. Yet, their decisions on what chairs, furniture, desks, sit to stand converters and more directly impact your employee health, safety and performance for years to come. Selection of equipment that doesn't meet ergonomics standards will fall short contributing significantly to work injury.
Remote vs. Onsite Work
All these organizational processes mentioned above impact employees whether they are working remotely at home or onsite. As a result, an employer must now keep in mind both locations when making decisions on day to day actions that impact how employees work and where. More than ever before, both the home office and the onsite office must incorporate ergonomics to support employee well-being and performance!
All Industries Benefit
Regardless of the industry you work in, the Ergonomics Process Influence Model has a bearing on all industries. Whether its healthcare, light or heavy industry, life sciences, call-centers, service agencies, public agencies and in between. When applied, ergonomics influences organizational processes and systems in an efficient, and effective way to ensure quality and improvement in the way people work so they can work safely and productively for years to come.
Education and Training a Must!
Perhaps one of the greatest shortcomings in today's workplace is the lack of focus, value, and understanding in ergonomics. The reason is failure to train and educate on the subject.
Ergonomics is neither common sense nor commonly practiced. It must be taught!
The key to benefiting from ergonomics as an organizational influencer is to ensure all your executive leadership, department decision makers, managers, supervisors, and employees are trained in ergonomics at the most effective level of engagement to achieve the desired results.
Below are recommended training times and content for staff based on their representation in the organization.
- Employees: Minimum 1-hour basic course for self-correction, self-care
- Supervisors and mid-Managers: 2-hour course (basic + work practices + ergo report review)
- Department Managers and Executives: 4-hours (basic + work practices + work injury strategy + budget)
- Key Department Influencers: 6-8 hours (basic + anthropometrics + role specific knowledge)
The Bottom Line
Workplace ergonomics is broad and deep, as technology becomes more complex so does the human interaction with it influencing physical, cognitive and organizational responses. The Ergonomics Process Influence Model presented here can only be effective with the proper knowledge, training and implementation in place.
To learn more about becoming a Certified Ergonomics Process Leader, register for the free webinar, How to Succeed as an Ergonomics Process Leader.