TECHNOLOGY BY DARLENE BREMER
Implementing an ergonomic process
is effective in reducing the risk of MSDs,
according to the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA).
“Ergonomics is a multidisciplinary
practice,” said Brian Lowe, research
industrial engineer in the division of
applied research and technology at the
National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health (NIOSH), Cincinnati. “It is
meant to improve the interaction between
the worker and his or her environment to
improve safety, productivity and health,
and to prevent injury at work.”
Ergonomics applications will vary
by company. From the standpoint of
electrical equipment design, the goal of
ergonomics is to create equipment that
is easy to install, maintain and use.
“In the workplace, the goal of ergo-
nomics is to reduce MSDs, sprains and
strains, prevent injuries, loss of time, and
the cost of those injuries,” said Walt Ros-
tykus, vice president of Humantech, an
ergonomics consulting company in Ann
Arbor, Mich. “And, most important, [to]
create a safe workplace.”
Other benefits of applying good
ergonomic principles in the workplace
include upgraded productivity through
eliminating non-value-added motion,
bettering employee retention and
improving final quality of work.
“In the office, ergonomic spaces
enable employees who work on computers to handle information accurately,
and, in the field, ergonomic principles
enable electricians to perform installations at the highest levels of quality,”
Of course, proper planning can support that endeavor.
“Ergonomic risk is best addressed
during the design and planning phase,”
said Rebecca Cranford, SVP Sustain-
ability, Safety and Environmental,
Southwire, Carrollton, Ga.. “Whether
we’re installing a new production line,
planning a maintenance or construction
job, or revamping a process, taking the
time up-front to engineer out the wasted
motion and error potential while design-
ing into the process innovative tools and
equipment that make the job easier and
more efficient pays dividends. This type
of thinking doesn’t just prevent injuries,
it saves time and money. It can be a chal-
lenge, though. Improvement only comes
with change, and change is hard.”
A good ergonomics process will cover
all work, whether in the office or in the
field, according to Peter Budnick, CEO of
Ergo Web Inc., Carefree, Ariz.
“However, there are different
approaches to ergonomics, based on the
working environment,” he said.
For example, in the office, where people are sitting in front of their computer
for much of the day, the best approach
to developing and maintaining effective
ergonomics is through online training,
assessment and self-help resources that
can track employee ergonomic improvements and problem resolution.
Developing an ergonomics program
for field employees requires more time
and more in-person training that will
supply the knowledge and tools required
to recognize ergonomic improvement
opportunities that will more effectively
improve their approach.
“The contractor will need some level
of expertise to develop and maintain an
ergonomics process, either with in-house
personnel, or through a well-vetted,
third-party professional that can offer
evidence-based advice,” Budnick said.
Although potential job hazards differ between the office and the field,
the high-level steps for developing and
maintaining an ergonomic program are
the same. Key steps are to identify and
measure the MSD risks that are present,
determine the exposures to MSDs, and
put in place the changes that will reduce
those risk factors, Rostykus said.
“Contractors should first pursue
designing the various ways, or choosing
the tools, that will enable field personnel
to reduce their risk and then create the
work practices that reduce individual
risk,” he said.
Management commitment to the
ergonomics program is essential, as well.
“The company needs to foster a work
culture that encourages employee participation in the program and the early
reporting of ergonomic issues,” Lowe said.
The company also needs to promote
awareness of MSD hazards and investigate potential risks before injuries occur.
“Consider MSD issues during project
planning to help avoid injuries, including considering how materials are to be
handled and disposed of and how works
needs to be performed for a safe, injury-free installation,” he said.
The most common barrier is the
misunderstanding of the purpose, value
and benefits of ergonomics. Because
ergonomics is generally perceived as
injury-prevention, it is viewed as a safety-compliance issue.
“Although safety is an important component of ergonomics, this approach
means that companies don’t benefit
from ergonomics’ ability to impact other
business metrics beyond the safety
department, such as productivity, quality and error reduction,” Budnick said.
Various tools are available to help
electrical contractors address ergonomics. Consult OSHA, NIOSH and ANSI
A10.40 2007 for more info.
A Productive Environment
The positive impact of ergonomics
EMPLOYERS ARE RESPONSIBLE for providing a safe workplace. Reducing or eliminating the number and severity of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)—which affect
muscles, nerves and tendons—and their associated costs is an important component
in achieving that goal.
BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL
CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.610.7164 and firstname.lastname@example.org.