Successful occupational ergonomics programs demonstrate four common characteristics. They are effective, efficient, sustainable and compliant. Effective in controlling poor ergonomic conditions and practices, efficient in utilizing the least amount of resources to achieve improvement, sustainable over time and personnel changes, and compliant with company, state, provincial and country requirements. To achieve this level of success, ergonomics is managed as an ongoing, integrated and sustainable process of continuous improvement. Similar to quality, Six-Sigma, Lean, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001, ergonomic improvements are best managed as a business process and demonstrate value to the organization. Added value has been demonstrated through increase in productivity, cycle time and quality, and reduction in losses, injuries, and employee discomfort.
Successful occupational ergonomic processes integrate both of strategic and tactical level activities. The following model (Figure 1) illustrates the key elements and steps required to begin, establish and sustain an effective ergonomics process. The model is based on the Shewart or Deming continuous improvement cycle of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA). This approach is scalable to large and small organizations, single or multiple locations, and all types of work environments.
The tactical components listed in the center are the steps to identify, address, verify and standardize improvements to the workplace that reduce exposure to ergonomic hazards. These actions are generally the responsibility of designated change agents. Change agents include advanced manufacturing engineers; product designers, site engineers, and EHS personnel, employees involved in ergonomics teams, Occupational Health personnel, as well as outsourced resources. The primary results of the tactical activities are the identification and reduction of ergonomic hazards.
Strategic components listed in the outer portion of the model illustrate the decisions, direction, review and support of top management necessary to support and sustain the tactical improvement process. These activities by the management team and a process owner (or owners) provide the infrastructure, support and direction for ongoing improvement activities.
Together the tactical and strategic components comprise a management system to sustain ergonomic improvements.
Figure 1: Ergonomics Process Model (available in full paper).
Each strategic and tactical step listed on the Ergonomics Process Model is briefly described in the following tables. These steps are provided as a guide to evaluate, organize and manage the ergonomics process (or program) within any organization.
Strategic activities (listed in the outer level of the model) establish a management system to ensure adequate and sustainable support for workplace improvements that identify needs and goals, establish improvement plans and measures, and provide adequate resources, which support and sustain tactical workplace improvements.