Ergonomics is sometimes referred to as the science of sitting, but it goes far beyond just watching your posture in your chair. The goal of ergonomics is to adapt the workplace for your employees to keep them healthy, safe, and productive. But not all ergonomics training courses are created equal. Here’s how to create the best ergonomics training course for your employees (and why it matters!).
Why is ergonomics training so important?
Overexertion and repetitive motion injuries are the most common (and costly) workplace injuries. Also called cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) or repetitive motion injuries (RMIs), musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include things like:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Rotator cuff injuries (affects the shoulder)
- Epicondylitis (affects the elbow)
- Trigger finger pain
- Muscle strains and lower back injuries
When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) first published its mandatory ergonomics standards in 2000, it estimated that MSDs cost companies $15 to $20 billion a year directly, with total direct and indirect cost (e.g., productivity and longevity) of $54 billion.
Citing the cost of compliance and conflict with state workers’ compensation laws, the ergonomics standards were quickly repealed in 2001, replaced with ergonomics guidelines that are not mandatory.
The cost of injuries
Even if it’s not technically mandatory, consider the following workplace injury statistics:
- In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that 33% of workplace injuries and illnesses were musculoskeletal in nature
- Carpal tunnel syndrome affects nearly two million people annually and requires between 300,000 and 500,000 corrective surgeries a year
- Nearly 375,000 people in 2001 sustained back injuries at work that necessitated days off
- More recent statistics on workplace injuries due to ergonomics place the annual cost around $60 billion
- Overexertion injuries (e.g., pushing, lifting, or pulling incorrectly) alone cost almost $14 billion annually
- MSDs require more time off than other workplace injuries (e.g., trips and falls) and make up more than one-third of all workplace injuries every year
So regardless of whether or not ergonomics training is required, if you want to keep employees healthy, happy, and at work, it’s not optional for your company. Doing so can save your employees from a painful experience and your company from additional health insurance costs.
How can I develop ergonomic training that works?
Developing quality ergonomics training courses that work does not happen overnight. There are stages to proper course development, including:
- Figuring out exactly what your company and employees need
- Designating roles and responsibilities to the right people
- Choosing the appropriate topics
- Making training a daily part of work
For most companies, a customized approach to ergonomics training begins with a training needs analysis.
Run an ergonomic training evaluation
Every great training program starts with a training needs analysis. Your human resources department can give you information on workplace injuries, illness, and workers’ compensation claims that are actually occurring within your company. This is the starting point for your training.
For example, if workers in your company experience excessive carpal tunnel syndrome and lower back pain, you might want to start by auditing everyone’s work space to see how they are positioning (and using) their bodies all day.
If your company is just starting out, or there are no injuries related to poor ergonomics, this is great news! You may just need baseline ergonomics awareness training that reinforces what your employees are already doing well.
Designate roles and responsibilities
You’ll need buy-in for ergonomics training from multiple groups across your organization. Before you consider rolling out training to employees, ensure these groups understand their roles and responsibilities both before and after training:
- Leadership: Your location’s leadership team likely won’t be directly involved in planning your ergonomics initiatives, but they should be ready to lead by example to communicate the importance of these training programs.
- Your safety team: These team members have the expert knowledge to act as subject matter experts for your training. Afterwards, they should be ready to work with your facilities staff to respond to any ergonomics issues employees report after training and upgrade processes or areas, as needed.
- Supervisors: As always, your supervisors are your front line when it comes to employee issues. Equip them with comprehensive ergonomics training before employees receive it, so they can assist employees with adjusting their workspaces, answering questions, and encouraging employees to report any discomfort or pain they’re experiencing in the workplace.
Once you have the right people involved, you can move onto actually developing your training program.
Consider including these eight topics
Regardless of industry, there are many misconceptions about ergonomics training. Some companies think of it as a blue-collar issue and associate ergonomics with strained backs. Others picture people in suits wearing wrist braces. In truth, it’s all of the above. Whether your employees work in an office or on a job site or both, ergonomics addresses the ways that workers use their bodies to fit their job.
Addressing specific ergonomics topics help to make the job better fit the worker. These ergonomics topics might include:
- Ergonomics awareness training
- Self-audit of employee practices
- Self-audit of work station layout
- Learning how to sit
- Proper lifting techniques
- Recognizing symptoms of injury
- How to report workplace injuries (your rights and responsibilities)
- Stretching exercises to relieve strain in the hands, back, neck, shoulders, etc.
These topics have many branches that apply to nearly every industry. Think nurses lifting patients and also using computers at workstations, construction workers who have to fill in reports and paperwork, and data entry workers unpacking deliveries of office supplies. Ergonomics support needs to occur during every part of the day.
Make it easy
Instead of one annual safety training, think of utilizing the concept of “kaizen”, or continuous improvement, that involves everyone in the company from the boardroom to the mailroom. With ergonomic training activities that are presented in small bites daily in ways that employees can easily put into practice, better ergonomics becomes a part of your company culture.
Mobile-first training apps can make that happen. For example, you can:
- Send microlearning courses daily, with two-minute videos that focus on ways employees can optimize their workspace
- Alert employee phones with geofencing-enabled notifications when they enter a job site to give them important on-the-ground safety reminders
- Roll out an interactive training game that delivers information on proper hand position over a laptop and is designed to correct misalignment while it’s being played
These are just a few examples of the ways in which ergonomics training becomes a daily part of life, not an isolated event. Along with PinPoint, we’ve developed a library of microlearning courses that were made for today’s mobile-first employees. With topics on proper ergonomics to back safety to hearing conservation, these courses are ready to roll out today to your team.
EdgePoint Learning can help you develop an ergonomics training course that works for your company. Get in touch today for a demo of our ergonomics training options, including mobile-first options.
Clint is the founder of PinPoint Workforce. PinPoint makes a mobile app for frontline safety training and EHS. Find out more at pinpointworkforce.com.