A behavioral observation and feedback process should be an integral component of a comprehensive approach to identifying and managing ergonomic hazards. Systematic behavioral observation and analysis can supplement other hazard identification and analysis tools. Routine behavioral observations conducted throughout the work environment identify situations in which ergonomically-unsound work practices occur. Job-specific behavioral observations may then be conducted as part of a detailed analysis. Subsequently, the observation process serves as a hazard reduction tool by providing peer feedback needed to encourage and reinforce the use of ergonomically-sound work practices.

This paper will:

  • review the key elements of a comprehensive ergonomics program

  • present a brief overview of a behavioral observation and feedback process

  • show how a behavioral observation process supports an ergonomics program, and

  • describe a training strategy for preparing behavioral safety observers to become effective at identifying ergonomic-related safe and at-risk situations.

Traditional Approach to Managing Ergonomic Risks

Traditional approaches to managing ergonomic-related illnesses include strategies to identify and then reduce exposure of employees to ergonomic hazards. An ergonomics training program is conducted to allow individuals to be active participants throughout the identification and elimination of ergonomic hazards. Instructional programs typically teach employees to recognize and report the early warning signs of ergonomic-related injuries, understand the basic ergonomic risk factors (e.g., repetitive motion, forceful exertions, sustained or awkward positioning) and use simple strategies to prevent ergonomic injury (e.g., proper seated posture, appropriate lifting techniques).

An ergonomics hazards analysis of the worksite is performed to identify existing and potential hazards. A thorough analysis includes:

  • a review of injury and illness records to identify patterns and trends indicative of ergonomic hazards,

  • the administration and analysis of a "symptom survey" to identify employees experiencing early symptoms of an ergonomics-related injury,

  • the administration and analysis of a "job/task survey" to pinpoint situations where tasks are performed for an extended duration and/or with sufficient frequency to raise concern,

  • a self/peer workplace evaluation that allows employees to assess and adjust their own and/or others' workstations,

  • a global workplace audit by an ergonomics specialist, including interviews with representative samples of workers, and

  • a detailed analysis of those situations identified in parts (a)-(e) as having a high risk potential.

Once ergonomic hazards are identified and prioritized through a systematic worksite analysis, corrective actions can be planned and taken. Risk reduction strategies typically include engineering and work practice controls, personal protective equipment, and administrative controls. Engineering controls include designing or modifying the workstation, tools, and equipment used in performing the work. Traditional work practice controls involve modifying work methods and operating procedures, followed by specific ergonomics training for the recommended changes. Administrative controls include rotating employees on and off certain jobs, modifying task schedules, and enlarging or enriching assignments.

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