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Ergonomics FAQ

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.

How do I know when I need help in ergonomics?

Many sources of information can indicate that your workplace can benefit from a good ergonomics program. Some 'triggers' that suggest that you have ergonomics related problems include the following:

Poor, or declining, productivity over the course of a shift or over a series of shifts 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! Address ergonomics:

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How do I find an ergonomics consultant (Ergonomist)?

Your first concern should be that the consultant is qualified and experienced to deal with the type of problem, concern, or issue you want to have addressed in your workplace. Qualified Ergonomists can have a variety of educational backgrounds and professional experience. To help ensure the quality of the work to be performed, you want to make sure that the Ergonomist you choose has the knowledge and experience required. It really pays to do a little work up-front, before you pay out valuable dollars and cents!

To determine whether an individual is qualified and experienced, there are several questions you need to research and/or ask:

Is the person a certified Ergonomist? By what body?

In Canada , we have Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomists (CCPE) who are certified by the Canadian College for the Certification of Professional Ergonomists (CCCPE). You might also see Ergonomists with the designation CPE, which is the designation from the US based Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics.

Does the person belong to an Ergonomics Association?

In Canada , we have the Association of Canadian Ergonomists (ACE). Most qualified Ergonomists in Canada belong to ACE. Check what membership category the person holds. There are many qualified Ergonomists in Canada who are not yet certified, and s/he would have been classified as a Full Member of ACE. Visit the ACE website, or call the ACE office toll-free at 1-888-432-2223 to check out membership and certification status of a prospective ergonomics consultant.

Does the person have experience relevant to your type of problem?

If your workplace is industrial and your problem is soft-tissue injuries, make sure you hire someone with experience in these areas. Ask for references and check them. Alternatively, ask around to see if other local businesses have used the services of an Ergonomist. What was their experience? Would they hire the same person again? If possible, meet with the prospective consultant before hiring them to discuss your problem and expectations. This will give you a better ‘feel' for how well you think you will work together.

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How can I get the most out of working with an Ergonomist?

To obtain the best long-term result for your company, do a bit of homework before you start an ergonomics project. Define your problem(s) or need for ergonomics help as clearly as you can. Quantify the existing problem in terms of how your company is being impacted... number of injuries, lost-time days,...the work area(s) or workers most affected, WCB costs, etc. Providing a consultant with this type of information can help them to zero in more quickly on where to focus their efforts. Also, you will have some baseline information to compare to after the project has been completed, allowing you to determine how effective your efforts were. Define your expectation(s) for the project. Then, together with the consultant, establish items like the following:

Your expectations should be reflected back to you by the consultant, in some form of project outline or proposal. Learn a bit about the type of problem you are experiencing, and/or the types of solutions that might exist. Visit a few websites (see Useful Links) to familiarize yourself with some of the terms. Be an informed consumer! Be prepared to actively participate throughout the project. This may take many forms:

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How much does it cost to address ergonomics in the workplace?

The real answer is that it can vary tremendously! Consider the following points.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Different types of ergonomics interventions can be made, such as engineering design changes and organizational design changes. It is typically easier to determine outlay 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!

  4. Similarly, ergonomics problems can be addressed 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 1-5 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.

  7. 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.

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Are there laws that regulate ergonomics in the workplace?

The answer to this question will depend on what province you live in ...

Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland & Labradour

Nova Scotia

Ontario

In Ontario there are no specific regulations related to ergonomics for most workplaces. This does not, however, mean that the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) ignores ergonomic issues and risk factors. In fact, the MOL has a complement of 5 Ergonomists who are granted the authority to conduct inspections, issue and follow up on orders related to ergonomic deficiencies in all Ontario workplaces.

The MOL Ergonomists rely on a number of sections of the act when they issue an order. First and foremost they frequently issue orders under Section 25(2)(h) of Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act (commonly viewed as the ‘General Duty Clause'). This section specifies that the employer shall “ take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker ”. Although not named specifically, this does include ergonomic issues where an officer on investigation determines that reasonable steps are not being taken to address a hazard and the resulting risk in a workplace.

The MOL Ergonomists will also issue orders under Sections 25(2)(a), and 54(1)(f). Section 25(2)(a) requires an employer to 'provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health and safety of the worker.' From an ergonomic point-of-view this means that workers must be informed about ergonomic risks in their workplace and they need to be provided with training that will help them to minimize or avoid these risks. Section 54(1)(f) allows the MOL Ergonomist to issue an order that requires the employer to hire an outside expert (i.e. a professional Ergonomist) to conduct an assessment of a job or task.

There are also two sections under the Regulations for Industrial Establishments that are used to issue ergonomics related orders. Section 21 states that the lighting in a work area must be designed to be 'adequate' and designed to minimize glare and shadows. This is often an issue in office or inspection workstations. Finally, Section 45 states that all items that are 'lifted, carried or moved, shall be lifted, carried or moved in such a way and with such precautions and safeguards, .... that the lifting, carrying or moving of the material, articles or things does not endanger the safety of any worker.' This section is used when dealing with manual material handling tasks (lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying, etc.) and the risk of injury (e.g. back injury) to the worker.

The MOL Ergonomists will issue orders for changes to the workplace. For example, an order may call for improvements to manual material handling conditions (e.g. lowering the weight of or changing the design of the object being handled, reducing the frequency of handling, changing the position/location of the object, or changing the position/location of the person doing the lifting.) The order may also specify that a workplace develop a compliance plan that allows the workplace to determine the best solution to a problem, and/or institute a program for ergonomic hazard identification and training.

Prince Edward Island

Quebec

Saskatchewan

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Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland & Labradour

Nova Scotia

Ontario

In Ontario there are no specific regulations related to ergonomics for most workplaces. This does not, however, mean that the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) ignores ergonomic issues and risk factors. In fact, the MOL has a complement of 5 Ergonomists who are granted the authority to conduct inspections, issue and follow up on orders related to ergonomic deficiencies in all Ontario workplaces.

The MOL Ergonomists rely on a number of sections of the act when they issue an order. First and foremost they frequently issue orders under Section 25(2)(h) of Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act (commonly viewed as the ‘General Duty Clause'). This section specifies that the employer shall “ take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker ”. Although not named specifically, this does include ergonomic issues where an officer on investigation determines that reasonable steps are not being taken to address a hazard and the resulting risk in a workplace.

The MOL Ergonomists will also issue orders under Sections 25(2)(a), and 54(1)(f). Section 25(2)(a) requires an employer to 'provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health and safety of the worker.' From an ergonomic point-of-view this means that workers must be informed about ergonomic risks in their workplace and they need to be provided with training that will help them to minimize or avoid these risks. Section 54(1)(f) allows the MOL Ergonomist to issue an order that requires the employer to hire an outside expert (i.e. a professional Ergonomist) to conduct an assessment of a job or task.

There are also two sections under the Regulations for Industrial Establishments that are used to issue ergonomics related orders. Section 21 states that the lighting in a work area must be designed to be 'adequate' and designed to minimize glare and shadows. This is often an issue in office or inspection workstations. Finally, Section 45 states that all items that are 'lifted, carried or moved, shall be lifted, carried or moved in such a way and with such precautions and safeguards, .... that the lifting, carrying or moving of the material, articles or things does not endanger the safety of any worker.' This section is used when dealing with manual material handling tasks (lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying, etc.) and the risk of injury (e.g. back injury) to the worker.

The MOL Ergonomists will issue orders for changes to the workplace. For example, an order may call for improvements to manual material handling conditions (e.g. lowering the weight of or changing the design of the object being handled, reducing the frequency of handling, changing the position/location of the object, or changing the position/location of the person doing the lifting.) The order may also specify that a workplace develop a compliance plan that allows the workplace to determine the best solution to a problem, and/or institute a program for ergonomic hazard identification and training.

Prince Edward Island

Quebec

Saskatchewan

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