Ergonomics is typically viewed as a safety issue. Cumulative trauma disorders, repetitive motion injuries, back injuries, and carpal tunnel syndrome are common phrases encountered with the implementation of an ergonomics program. This article will discuss the benefits where an ergonomics process will not just focus on "safety issues" but rather on improving the overall business and thus bottom line profitability. That is the business advantage of an ergonomics program.
Ergonomics is an excellent example of moving the safety profession into a better strategic direction by helping the business improve its overall objective.
Many times, business management views ergonomics as a safety program. Very little is seen in terms of the overall business benefit with these types of programs. Other issues may involve the reasons for the cumulative trauma disorders, such as fraudulent claims, poor medical management of claims, or workers not properly trained. These are actually symptoms that the management process needs to be improved, not just the ergonomic aspects of a task. The safety professional will best be able to assist the business and have more success in implementing ergonomics controls when these controls are put into the context of the business process. Dr. Steven Covey states, "seek first to understand then to be understood." His concept tells us that we should first understand the management process within the business and then determine how the ergonomic issues are affecting the business. For example, business management as reported by Industry Week magazine is concerned with three primary issues; product quality, controlling health care cost and controlling production costs. If you ask business management what their primary concerns are, the majority would state production, quality, and thus, overall bottom line profitability. The safety professional needs to understand that safety is not first, but the key is to understand how safety and ergonomic issues affects production and quality, and overall bottom line profitability.
That is the advantage of a business ergonomics process.
Too many businesses have only a compliance-based safety culture. These cultures will never be truly effective in providing a quality safety program. In these organizations, safety is viewed as strictly a compliance-based issue and not seen as a true advantage to the business. Companies that only aspire to compliance-based safety program also do not understand the total quality management process. From a regulatory point of view, we look at OSHA having been in place for approximately the past 30 years. Since that time, the number one work place injury for the past, present and foreseeable future has been low back injuries. However, when we review the OSHA regulations, we see no regulation and/or standard addressing the number one work place injury.
My point is not to blame OSHA for this but only to demonstrate that the OSHA regulations do not even address our number one work place injury. More importantly, why do businesses wait for OSHA to tell them how their businesses should be run?