Lord Kelvin and Yogi Berra on Managing Ergonomics

Walt Rostykus

Walt Rostykus

As a manager of  environment, health and safety (EHS) programs, you’ve heard the adage, “What gets measured gets done,” a quote often attributed to Deming, Lord Kelvin and others.  The adage and practice is true, but the right goals are not always set nor the right metrics measured.  We’ve found this especially true with the management of occupational ergonomics.

Setting the right goal and metrics are essential for an effective, sustainable ergonomics process.  The traditional goal is to “reduce ergonomic injuries” by measuring incidence rates of ergonomic/MSD (musculoskeletal disorder) injuries.  I call this ‘traditional’ because it has been used by most safety managers and companies since the early 1980’s.

Unfortunately, both the goal and metric are lagging measures of consequences (injury).  They do not allow organizations to take action to prevent the loss.  Yogi Berra was right when he said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”

In a recent benchmarking study of ergonomic program management we found that:

  • 54% of participating companies still used injury incidence or lost workday case rate (of MSDs, sprains and strains) as their primary goal and measure for workplace ergonomics (a lagging measure of consequence).
  • 15% had no specific measures for ergonomics.  Instead they considered it part of the total injury/illness rate.
  • 31% tracked the level of exposure to MSD risk factors (a leading measure of cause).

The benchmarking study also showed that organizations successful in managing occupational ergonomics set a common goal of reducing MSD risk factors to the lowest level possible.  This aligns everyone toward “True North”, a common goal with a leading, proactive measure.  The measure is dependent on being able to quantify the level of exposure to the risk factors that cause MSDs: awkward posture, high force and time (long duration or high frequency).

Quantitative tools for ergonomic risk factors provide measures at two levels: They identify the amount of exposure at an individual task or workstation, and they track the progress of improvement across an organization.  Additionally, they eliminate the need for and use of subjective assessments, providing valid and objective determination of what is an ergonomic hazard, and what is not.

Use of these quantitative risk assessments provide a measure of MSD risk and allows these measures to be fed up through an organization.  With this information you can track risk exposures at the workstation, department, value stream, plant and company-wide levels. This can be a lot of data and create an administrative nightmare just to collate and report the results.

Successful organizations use a common database to collect and report assessments, improvements, follow up assessments and report the measures plant wide and company-wide.  On-line solutions provide a comprehensive database to manage the administrative task needed to document your ergonomics program.

So where does your organization stand with management of ergonomics? Are you focused on measuring cause or consequences? Do your goal and measures support a reactive or proactive approach? How confident are you in your current approach to achieve the results your executive leaders expect?

To discuss more ways to improve  your ergonomic tracking, join NAEM for the 2011 EHS MIS conference, March 2-3 in San Antonio.

About Walt Rostykus

Walt Rostykus is a vice president with Humantech Inc., a consulting firm that combines the science of ergonomics with the company’s unique 30-Inch View® to deliver practical solutions that impact safety, quality, and productivity.

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1 Comment
  1. Kelvin

    February 1, 2011

    Thanks for the mention, but Lord Kelvin is over the top. Feel free to call me Past President Kelvin.

    Seriously, this was a good blog and helps move ergonomics from the mysterious to measurable

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