Adding Fuel to Your Ergonomics Process

Mike Wynn, Contributor

Effective ergonomics processes focus on two things: reducing ergonomics risks in current operations and ensuring the ergonomics acceptability of new products and equipment that shape future operations. They emphasize engineering controls, changes to the workplace that reduce ergonomics risks. Engineering controls permanently limit exposure to ergonomic risk factors, rather than relying on worker behaviors with administrative and work practice controls, such as job rotation or training workers in techniques to reduce physical stress.

Activities to reduce ergonomics risk and prevent introducing new risks are most effective when they are conducted with a high degree of worker involvement. Workers are the real experts in the workplace. They know the most about job challenges, and oftentimes, have great insight into how jobs can be improved for ergonomics. The more that worker involvement can be systematically embedded into the ergonomics process, the better the process will perform.

Improving Ergonomics of Current Operations

To systematically involve workers in the ergonomics improvement process, you can identify the critical activities of the process and align worker involvement steps. (See chart titled “Worker Involvement for Existing Work Environments.”)

Involving Workers in the Design and Selection of New Products, Equipment and Tools

You can similarly align worker involvement steps with critical activities in your company’s New Product Introduction, Design for Six Sigma and Advanced Manufacturing Engineering processes. While your company initiatives might be named differently, most companies have some form of these processes:

  • New Product Introduction (NPI) encompasses the steps from the idea to the launch of a new product. Stage gate reviews are conducted after completion of concept, design development and launch phases.
  • Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) is used by companies that have adopted Six Sigma for redesigns of products and processes. Customer and business needs (including worker needs) are converted into design requirements that drive development and are used to evaluate different design options.
  • Advanced Manufacturing Engineering (AME) develops and launches production processes for new products. Issues with current products and manufacturing processes, along with product and manufacturing roadmaps, drive the development of new production processes and equipment.

Chart 1: Worker Involvement for Existing Work Environments

Ergonomics Improvement Activity Examples of Worker Involvement
Identify potential ergonomic issues in the workplace Train workers to recognize and report ergonomics issues in their jobs

Survey workers to identify tasks that they find uncomfortable or demanding

Conduct ergonomics assessments of potential issues Interview workers about uncomfortable or demanding aspects of their job as part of an ergonomics assessment
Develop workplace solutions that reduce ergonomics risk Involve workers in generating ergonomics improvement ideas
Evaluate and prioritize potential ergonomics improvements Get worker input and feedback on potential ergonomic improvements
Implement ergonomics improvements and confirm effectiveness Survey workers  after improvements are implemented to ensure they are effective – and the changes haven’t created any new issues
Reapply effective ergonomics improvements to other jobs with similar ergonomic issues Including workers in cross-functional teams responsible for the site ergonomics process

Chart 1 caption:  This chart lists some of the most common activities related to improving the ergonomics of existing operations and ways that companies have ensured worker involvement.

Chart 2: Worker Involvement in Designing New Operations 

Ergonomics Design and Selection Activity Examples of Worker Involvement
Identify ergonomic issues in current operations for inclusion in business needs analysis of next generation product or process Survey workers to identify tasks that they find uncomfortable or demanding in existing operations

Interview workers about uncomfortable or demanding aspects of their job as part of an ergonomics assessment of current operations

Identify potential ergonomic issues when considering new product and process concepts Include workers from current operations in cross-functional design teams

Include workers from existing operations in evaluations of design concepts

Assess new product and process designs to ensure they meet ergonomics design guidelines Includes workers from existing operations in evaluations of pilot builds
Assess tools and equipment against ergonomic design guidelines before they are specified and procured Includes workers from existing operations in evaluations of equipment prototypes
Verify the ergonomics acceptability of new products, equipment, and tools prior to installation Interview workers about uncomfortable or demanding aspects during run-off evaluations

Chart 2 caption:   Above are some common activities and worker involvement opportunities related to ensuring ergonomics in the design and specification of new products, tools and equipment.

For additional information on how to embed worker involvement in your ergonomics process, download Ergoweb’s free eBook 5 Essential Elements of a Successful Ergonomics Process. This 14 page guide addresses important considerations, such as integrating ergonomics with continuous improvement initiatives like Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma, as well as ensuring appropriate responsibilities for ergonomics within an organization.  

About the Author  

Mike Wynn is Vice President of Ergoweb, a software company that helps companies create sustainable ergonomics programs. Mike has consulted with hundreds of companies since 1989 and has served on ergonomics committees for the American Industrial Hygiene Association, Applied Ergonomics Conference and National Ergonomics Conference. Mike’s focus is understanding user needs for ergonomics management software and translating those needs to capabilities of Ergoweb Enterprise.