How to Ensure Your Ergonomic Efforts in the Office Are Successful

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Brian Kost

As a disability resources consultant I’m often asked why ergonomic programs fail. The biggest reason: Companies forget to take into account employee behavior.

When a company starts an ergonomic evaluation it traditionally looks to identify and reduce basic ergonomic risk factors — things like poorly placed monitors or ill-fitting chairs. Some companies even take it a step further by inviting employees to be active participants in identifying and eliminating those risk factors.

It’s what happens (or not) after the evaluation that determines the program’s success.

A good example is a client I met a couple of months ago who was complaining of elbow tenderness. I sat back and observed her for about 10 minutes and quickly noticed her keyboard was pushed so far forward that her arms were reaching across her desk. She also was slouching in her chair.

I made some adjustments to her workstation and explained how she could reduce or even eliminate some of her elbow pain. I demonstrated good body posture when seated and good hand and arm positioning when using her keyboard.

In theory, her workstation was fixed. But this case was far from closed.

After I left the workstation, I went behind her cubicle and saw that she was pushing her keyboard away from her again and that she had resumed her slouch position.

While we know learning involves a change in behavior, it takes practice and the change in behavior must be reinforced. Positive feedback is a great way to motivate your employees and solve this problem. Getting feedback on-site from peers and supervisors motivates employees to make the necessary changes. It keeps them active in the process and helps enable long-term changes.

I realize that sometimes employees purposely choose to work at risk, usually because the at-risk behavior is easier and/or faster than the safe alternative. However, continued positive reinforcement will lead to greater success of your ergonomic program. The extra time you spend on-site observing will pay off as behavior changes are made and your employees become more productive.