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Why all Businesses should have Written, Objective Ergonomic Standards in Place

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Background and Case Study;

One of your employees has let their supervisor know they have been having on-going issues with low back discomfort. They let HR know as well that they will be using their benefits to see a massage therapist and a Physiotherapist for their lower back issues.

2 weeks later the employee continues to tell their supervisor their back discomfort continues and they think it is the chair coupled with the fact they can never seem to take their breaks.

One week later the employee presents a note from their GP stating they need to have an ergonomic assessment and that their chair needs to be replaced with an XYZ style chair, and they need a keyboard tray installed.

Now what?

In the absence of written ergonomic furniture, equipment, IT, software and environment standards the most likely scenario will include HR advising the supervisor to follow what the doctors note says as “they know best” and it is important to not have any potential legal or human rights issues arise.

Correct response yes?
Definitely not!

In fact this scenario is played out in office environments across the country according to our surveys at OPC & our ongoing interviews with both HR and Facility Managers.  In almost all of these situations, supervisors, HR and FM’s do not  like this strategy yet feel they are not able to “control this situation”. After all if the Physician has said this is what is required then the company is obliged to follow their directive.

Nothing could be more misinformed or further from the truth.

Ergonomics is a scientific discipline, which is concerned with improving the productivity, health, safety and comfort of people. Ergonomics is also the science which allows more effective interaction among people, technology and the environment in which employees operate.

Employer Responsibility According to the Compensation Boards & OH&S Bodies;

Organizations across Canada are required to provide equipment , accessories, IT hardware and software and environments conducive to the health and the safety of all employees. Further with Human Rights Codes for each province and Federally employers must provide reasonable levels of accommodation in the office workplace relative to the functional abilities of each employee. With the new AODA Act for Ontario this goes one step further whereby employees and potential employees may have special needs, such as left-handedness, colour blindness, deafness or learning differences.

The ergonomic goal in each of these 3 types of scenarios is to provide formalized, evidence based; written ergonomic STANDARDS to accommodate the user population so all employees can interface effectively with equipment, accessories, technology, the environment and job tasks.
Purpose For Written Ergonomic Standards
If your organization truly wants to establish and manage a successful Ergonomic process versus letting an employee, the Physician or other health care provider run the process for you, we strongly recommend your organization develop standards for the quantification of ergonomic hazards and written standards for furniture, seating, IT hardware and software, environment and job demands.

Having written standards in place will satisfy the formal requirements of compensation boards across Canada, the Ministry of Labour in Ontario, Human Rights and now the AODA for Ontario.

Following are some general examples of written standards for some aspects of the work environment. For more specific standards we recommend you contact one of our more Senior Ergonomic Consultants who will bring ergonomic related experience and management expertise to the process.

Ergonomic furniture should be designed to facilitate task performance, minimize fatigue & prevent injury by fitting the workstation according to body size & height, range of motion of the employee as well as based on the job demands.

Office workstations should have some measure of adjustability to enable the employee to modify the workstation to accommodate different physical dimensions, physical abilities or disabilities as well as the requirements of the job.

The purchase of workstations and furniture should be task specific to eliminate:

  • Non-neutral postures (eg. leg clearance, reaches to items)
  • Static loads (leaning forward from the chair with no back support)
  • Repeated movements  (mouse clicks at a fast rate)
  • Compressive loads (such as the forearms against the edge of the desk)
  • Force (opening and closing file drawers)
  • Environment (air, light, sound)
  • Mental demands and concentration

Design and furniture standards based on ergonomic principals should support employees to achieve the operational objectives of your organization. There are three goals to consider in human-centred or universal design;

    1. Enhance human abilities
    2. Overcome human limitations
    3. Ensure user acceptance
    4. Minimize human error

To achieve these objectives, there are several key elements of ergonomics in the office to consider as part of the Standards development process.

  • Equipment – video display terminals
  • Software design – system design and screen design for greater usability
  • Workstation design – chairs, worksurfaces, other tools & accessories
  • Environment – space planning, use of colour & contrast, lighting, acoustics, air quality and thermal factors
  • Training – preparing employees to work with technology and the work environment and equipment

Specific Illustration; Office Chair Standards
Seat Height: Seat height should be pneumatically adjusted while seated. A range of 16 – 20.5″ off floor. Thighs  horizontal, lower legs vertical, feet flat on the floor or on a footrest. Seat height should also allow a 100-110 degree angle at the back
Seat Width

and Depth:

A seat width of 17-20″ & adjustable seat pan depth. The front edge should be rounded and padded. The seat slant should be adjustable (0 to 10 degrees). Avoid moulded-type seats. The seat should swivel easily.
Seat Material: A chair seat and back should be padded or mesh to allow comfortable circulation. The seat fabric should “breathe” to allow air circulation through clothes to the skin.
Armrests: Armrests are required for most office tasks. They should not restrict movement or impede the worker’s ability to get close enough to the work surface & usually include Hi Performance, 4 Directions of movement. The employee should rest the forearms while keying.

In conclusion if your HR and FM Managers no longer want to have external parties or employees “running” your ergonomic program; and if managers want to ensure your ergonomics program will meet compensation board, Ministry of Labour, Human Rights and AODA requirements we strongly suggest you use the expertise of experience and qualified ergonomic experts. The experts can assess the job demands in the workplace; work with the Interior Designers and Furniture dealers who supply these services to your organization; and develop comprehensive, science based standards which will ensure the ergonomic program is owned by and run by your organization.

For more information about Ergonomic Standards for Assessment and Design contact us at 416 850-0002 or 0004 or j.sleeth@OptimalPerformance.ca

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