If you want to save the office world from musculoskeletal disorders and discomfort, you have to know a lot more than ergonomics.
You have to know how to get things done.To be blunt about it, if you can't answer the following thirteen questions, you may never manage to help anybody. These are questions that a lot of us wish we'd answered early in the game. They look easy to answer, but take this challenge: write down the answers. In detail.
You'll get stuck more often than you think.
These questions are an excellent exercise for ergonomics
committees. Divide 'em up, do the research (don't just assume you
know the answers), and discuss.
1. Who are the players?
Who currently pays attention to ergonomics? Since you're visiting this website, you probably are one of those people. Who else? Supervisors? The people who "do the work"? Facilities people?
The people or groups you identify here are potential ergonomics
committee members and collaborators.
2. Who currently implements ergonomics?
This may be the facilities or design departments, an ergonomics committee, training departments, individual department managers, or others. Sometimes, only the affected people (and perhaps their private-side insurers) make ergonomic changes.
The people or groups identified by this question should be in the
audiences of presentations and training sessions.
3. Who has historically implemented things that result in bad ergonomics? Who has obstructed ergonomics?
These people are among those you should wish to influence. They may
be facilities people or people who "design" jobs, or someone else.
4. Who has to notice when there are ergonomic problems?
Usually, medical and human resources people know about more serious cases. Supervisors and/or peers may be the ones who notice both "official cases" and cases of discomfort or complaint. And, of course, the people who are experiencing problems notice ... or do they?
These people may be able to assist you in estimating the extent and
kind of ergonomic problems at your site.
5. Who has to pay for ergonomic health problems?
Most likely, this is anyone having to do with occupational health payments (medical expenditures, insurance premiums, and disability payments, for example, plus payments for any staff who do administration or treatment).
Ironically, the people identified by this question often have little
to do with ergonomics itself.
6. Who might get upset about others doing or measuring ergonomic work?
Does anyone feel they "own" ergonomic activity and might want to protect their turf? Does anyone have ergonomics as a responsibility, yet are inactive and therefore sensitive about it?
The people or groups identified in this question need special
attention and communication.
7. Who must approve or support ergonomics or ergonomics budgets?
Typically, this is one or more senior management role, usually in conjunction with a group or person doing organizational strategy and other big-picture activities.
These players need plenty of information, especially information
about how their support pays off.
8. Why are "the players" doing ergonomics?
This question often has more than one answer. Possibilities are: An OSHA citation in the past; the possibility of being investigated or cited by OSHA or some other regulatory body; high worker's compensation, insurance, turnover, absenteeism, or disability costs that are perceived as ergonomics-related; production or quality problems (errors, delays, etc) that are perceived as fatigue- or ergonomics-related; the belief that ergonomics affects recruitment and retention of certain employees; the belief that ergonomics influences customer perceptions of the company; the belief that being responsible for ergonomics enhances personal or departmental image or resources; because employee health, comfort, and satisfaction are valued.
The answers are your organizational hot buttons. Be sure you
know whether ergonomics affects the things on the answer list. And
accept the fact that it may not be possible to persuade people to value
9. How does communication happen among "the players" regarding ergonomics?
Do people concerned about ergonomics have a way to get regular information to anyone else? Possibilities include human resources reviews at board meetings, ergonomics or safety committee meetings, bulletin board postings, and employee newsletters.
The answers tell you whether you need to add new communication
methods to your existing situation.
10. On a larger scale than ergonomics, what's important to the company and key players?How much does the company value, in all its decision areas: the bottom line, stockholder opinion, tradition, appearances, acting like an organizational family, employee recruitment or retention, employee performance, employee morale, spiritual values, etc.
On your first pass you may think your organization values them all. Work on understanding the hierarchy.
11. Are there any conflicts about values or recent shifts in values?
These conflicts are often the symptoms of new ways of making
decisions conflicting with old ways. Try to keep up with
12. Are there any current sources of ergonomic-related data?
Consider: who tracks health and health costs? Does anyone measure productivity in any way? Does anyone measure employee attitudes in any way? Are there records of ergonomics training or workstation changes? Are any data collected repeatedly? Are there any sources of comparisons for any of these kinds of data (for example, for others in the same industry, or other clients of the same insurer)?
Quantitative data regarding situations and results are extremely
powerful tools, in terms of being effective (choosing to do the best
actions) and getting resources (persuading others that you deserve
support). If there are existing data sources, you may be able to
leverage them rather than start from scratch.
13. How are spending decisions made?
For example, some businesses rely on the experience and wisdom of key people, while others require detailed proposals containing certain kinds of data and analyses.
Learning the local way to influence decisions saves a lot of wasted energy. Don't expect decision makers to easily adapt to YOUR version of decision support.