Some common questions about ergonomics and how to apply it in your workplace are provided below. If you have any other questions concerning ergonomics, please contact ACE.
Many sources of information can indicate that your workplace can benefit from a good ergonomics program. Some 'triggers' that suggest that your workplace would benefit from an ergonomist’s services include the following:
Employees in your workplace, or in certain specific work areas, are experiencing soft-tissue injuries (STI), also known as Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders or (WMSDs) such as tendonitis, back injuries, sore muscles, etc. These are all indicators that the job demands are excessive due to one or a combination of risk factors (i.e. force levels, work postures, repetitive actions, long durations, and/or psychosocial stressors).
Accidents such as slips and falls, and injuries such as cuts and bruises, struck by/on, caught on/in events. These accidents may be a result of inadequate clearances, design of controls and tools, poor design of stairways, lack of appropriate lighting, poor visibility, etc.
High rates of general absenteeism and/or worker turnover. These can be indicators of high levels of physical or mental demand, poor workplace design, and/or poor organizational design.
High number of mistakes, and/or rework due to poor quality. These are often the result of difficult work processes, high workloads and fatigue, inadequate communication/information, poor visibility, etc. Poor, or declining, productivity over the course of a shift or over a series of shifts. This can also mean that the work is not well designed for workers.
Aside from detecting these triggers, you should consider the benefits to be gained from applying ergonomics proactively in order to prevent problems before they occur. This is the most effective and resource-efficient way to incorporate ergonomics into your workplace!
A list of consultants can be found in ACE’s Consultant Directory. In Canada, we have Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomists (CCPE) who are certified by the Canadian College for the Certification of Professional Ergonomists (CCCPE). The CCCPE has developed a rigorous process for ensuring professional competence consistent with the International Ergonomics Association (IEA). This national certification was developed to protect the public. To successfully attain the designation of Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist (CCPE), the applicant must have successfully completed university level courses, which are specific to, and taught with examples from ergonomics, must have a minimum of 4 years of full-time practice and must demonstrate, through work products, an understanding of ergonomics in its full breadth of application including physical, cognitive and organizational (macro). Certification of Ergonomists helps users of ergonomics services to determine those who have an identified level of training and experience and improves the quality of practice among ergonomists.
Poor ergonomics may be costing you or your company a lot. Addressing these concerns may have some upfront cost but in the long run should save you money through optimized work processes and improvements in the health and wellbeing of your staff. The extent of the upfront costs will vary depending on the project and scope of changes required. Consider the following points.
When incorporated during the planning or decision stage of building, buying or modifying something in the workplace (proactive), ergonomics benefits often come for free! The ‘cost' is in the form of taking the time to plan properly. Conversely, when ergonomics is applied to correct existing problems (reactive), there will be financial costs to varying degrees.
Depending on the type of business you are in and the extent of problem that exists, ergonomic improvements can range from inexpensive to very expensive. Note that many workplace improvements can be made for minor costs.
Different types of ergonomics interventions can be made, such as engineering design changes and organizational design changes. It is typically easier to determine costs for outright purchases, or engineering type modification projects. However, changes to the organization of work, such as implementing a work rotation scheme, also are associated with financial costs - they are just much harder to measure.
Similarly, ergonomics interventions may address the risk factors to varying degrees. Eliminating the root causes completely may cost more than making a change that reduces the risk. Your budget and resources will help to dictate the extent to which to adopt ergonomic changes.
Initiatives that are undertaken to improve productivity, efficiency and/or quality can be easier to cost justify than projects based solely on reducing injuries. Whenever possible, look for opportunities within other cost-justified projects to make ergonomic improvements. Alternatively, when looking at ways to address ergonomics-related problems, consider whether you might expand the project scope to include productivity/efficiency and/or quality gains.
Consider what it is costing you to ignore ergonomics-related problems. Aside from the more obvious direct costs associated with WCB premiums, there are many indirect costs that are harder to measure, but nonetheless do cost your business. Some of these are costs associated with recruiting and training replacement workers, overtime coverage wages, administrative time associated with investigating injuries and managing lost-time cases, etc. These are estimated to cost between 1 and 5 times what you are paying in direct costs. By having insight to these costs, you will be in a better position to determine how much you can spend to make improvements.
One of the biggest mistakes made by companies when addressing ergonomics is to make a large investment in an ‘easy' solution that is not very effective at resolving the problem. Avoid this problem by fully defining the root cause(s), and considering alternative solutions before spending money. Consultation with a qualified and experienced ergonomics professional can also help to ensure your dollars are spent effectively. There are effective ergonomics strategies for every size of business. Adjust your ergonomics efforts to suit your budget.
Ergonomics, or human factors, is a broad field involving issues of safe and effective human interaction with the design and use of all aspects of a person’s environment including systems, organizations, equipment and tasks. Currently in Canadian workplaces, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Acts and Regulations are primarily concerned with regulating the prevention of Soft Tissue Injuries, most commonly referred to as Musculoskeletal Injuries (MSI) or Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD). This draws primarily on “physical” ergonomics applications by regulating how physical work, such as lifting, standing, sitting, etc., should be managed. Cognitive and organizational ergonomics applications are not prevalent in Canadian regulations at this time. These are more likely to be referenced in Standards, Guidelines and Best Practices documents within and outside of the OHS arena, depending on how ergonomics is being applied. (For more information on cognitive and organizational ergonomics, please refer to the Fact Sheets on these topics at www.ace-ergocanada.ca )
Federally, the Canada Labour Code II Part XIX outlines a Hazard Prevention Program under which employers are responsible for developing, implementing and monitoring a program for the prevention of hazards, including ergonomics-related hazards.
Please see below for links to provincial and territory ergonomics related regulations.
British Columbia: WSBC Ergonomics (MSI) Regulations 4.46 to 4.53
Alberta: OHS Code, Part 14, Sec 211
Saskatchewan: Part Vi, Section 81
Ontario: Ministry of Labour (link??)
Quebec Div. XX, Sec. 166-171
New Brunswick: Act & Regulations
Newfoundland & Labrador: Occupational Health & Safety Regulations Part V1, Sec. 50 to 56
PEI: OHS Act
Yukon: OHS Act
Northwest Territories & Nunavut: Mining Act