Today manufacturers are selling chairs, workstations, keyboards, monitors, and even staplers and calculators designed with ergonomics in mind. These products are meant to reduce what the U.S. Department of Labor calls work-related musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, which include carpal tunnel syndrome. But are these products being used universally and to their full potential?
According to the labor department, hundreds of thousands of days of work are lost every year due to MSDs, making up about one-third of the days lost to all injuries. For a small business, the loss of one or two workers because of an MSD could dramatically impact the business’s productivity and bottom line. But despite this, many businesses have adopted a reactive approach to ergonomics and MSDs. For example, a new employee is shown his or her generic workstation and told to use the chair that’s available or to forage for a chair from an empty cubicle. Sound familiar? The business may bring in an ergonomics specialist to retrofit the environment if the employee ends up showing signs of an MSD, but then it could be too late to avoid lost days.
Why do businesses steer clear of a proactive approach? There are various reasons, including the costs of a companywide ergonomics program with a consultant or designated staff member, or ignorance on the part of the employer. And when a proactive approach is attempted, many well-meaning employers and employees might think “ergonomically designed” solutions can be one-size-fits-all. Since every human differs physically, such as the length of arms, legs, and trunk, one size is not the answer. Fortunately many ergonomic solutions are adjustable.
The challenge is getting people to do individual research about the subject matter before an injury occurs. The Internet offers basic information on good practices, equipment, and consultants. Google alone has about 9,870,000 entries for “ergonomics.”
Some companies have found brief e-seminars and traditional training sessions, with or without a consultant or designated staff member, to be effective in getting the word out. The effectiveness usually increases when the training covers the individual traits of employees and the employees’ environment. Obviously that level of detail requires planning and employee research. Even so, when the potential time required is weighed against the potential loss of days, productivity, and revenue caused by musculoskeletal disorders, a proactive approach to ergonomics with training could be the healthiest, most cost-effective choice for a business of any size.