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Options Online Newsletter, June 2008

Proper Posture, Work Breaks Minimizes Injures

  Canadian HR Reporter, 21 April 2008 "Proper posture, work breaks minimizes injures" http://www.hrreporter.com/loginArea/login.aspx?ArticleNo=5995&loginPageVerbage=SUB

Advancing Your Ergonomics Program Through Partnership
submitted by KEITH SOPHA, Manager of Housekeeping/Linen/Space
Homewood Health Centre, Guelph, ON

In the March/April issue of Sanitation Canada I wrote about a process used in the Housekeeping Department at Homewood Health Centre to reduce Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD).

The approach was to provide our employees the opportunity to learn how to prevent MSD injuries by understanding the importance of taking personal responsibility for their own well-being through exercise and healthy lifestyle.

Another essential aspect of an effective and proactive MSD program is to complete a detailed ergonomic assessment of the essential tasks and tools employees use to complete the jobs that have been flagged potentially high risk.

Understanding how to identify MSD hazards through ergonomic assessments may be an overwhelming task, and in many situations individuals may not understand how to identify MSD hazards, or simply may not agree on their cause. In such cases, it is beneficial to bring in an individual with more training and knowledge, such as an experienced Ergonomist.

Ergonomists can provide a wide range of services to companies looking to start the process of MSD prevent, or guide an existing initiative. Their education in injury hazard identification, injury causation, and solutions and containment methods enable them to assess jobs quickly and effectively. Considering that companies are legally required to take all precautions and steps possible to reduce MSD hazards in their workplace, this task cannot be taken lightly, and must be completed as efficiently and effectively as possible. An Ergonomists can help in this process by performing Physical Demands Assessments (PDA) or Ergonomic Risk Assessments on all jobs, or selected high risk jobs, in the workplace in order to identify areas of particular concern and needed improvements. They can also work with the appropriate parties in order to brainstorm, investigate, choose and implement the proper MSD hazard controls needed in the workspace, and in this way set the company on the right path towards MSD prevention.

While obtaining outside ergonomic consulting can greatly aid in an MSD prevention initiative, the costs of implementing this support on an organization-wide basis may be too costly to implement immediately, or a company may desire to use their existing staff to run their own MSD prevention program. This is a common situation, and there are a number of methods available to initiate and implement a program on a phased basis and still meet legislative requirements and guidelines. One such method is to create a partnership with an ergonomic consulting company that understands your company ergonomic strategy and is open to working with you on a long term basis.

Homewood Health Centre has been successful in establishing such a relationship by partnering with Options Inc., a Guelph-Ont.-based ergonomic consulting firm servicing Southwestern Ontario. This partnership has included completing ergonomic assessments in select high risk areas in order to better understand the risks and potential methods to contain and address them. To date this support has included evaluating such areas as nusing workstations, switchboard area, a variety of kitchen positions, laundry, garbage, nutrition carts, general and specific housekeeping tasks as well as to assist with return to work and job matching requirements.

The Housekeeping Department utilized the services of Options Inc. to identify ergonomic risks associated with each specific housekeeping task.

This information is used on an ongoing basis as a benchmark for modified work planning, equipment purchases, work design and ergonomic training.

We felt it was important to include front line staff in the assessment, as they are the individuals who perform the tasks and are faced with the risks of MSD.

We are now in the process of completing a review of furniture moving tasks in response to having identified these tasks as having inherent potential ergonomic concerns which makes them high-risk for onset of MSDs. A full summary of this project, including methods we have implemented to contain and address identified risks, will be presented in a future article.

Given both the high prevalence of MSD cases in Ontario workplaces, and the new prevention requirements placed on companies, it is evident that ergonomics must have a permanent place in every workplace. By partnering with properly trained specialists to develop a solid ergonomic program, workplaces will be able to satisfactorily reduce MSDs, and help build a healthier, more profitable organization.

  Sanitation Canada “Advancing Your Ergonomics Program Through Partnership” http://perkspub.com/content/view/648/0/

How Furniture Movers Can Work "Smarter Not Harder”
submitted by KEITH SOPHA, Manager of Housekeeping/Linen/Space
Homewood Health Centre, Guelph, ON

In last month’s article, we outlined the benefits of collaborating with ergonomics specialists to help decrease known areas of Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) risks within the workplace.

At Homewood Health Centre, we continue to collaborate with Options Inc. in order to successfully address our areas of ergonomic concern. As mentioned in last months article, one area targeted through this partnership is furniture moving. As promised, a full summary of this review, including methods we have implemented to contain and address identified risks are presented in this issue.

Before proceeding, it is important to note that most ergonomic projects, including the project outlined in this article, are not large or complex. One of the biggest challenges associated with these types of projects is attaining financial support to apply resources and time. Although this may be difficult, it is a critical step and well worth fighting for because it is necessary to take care of your organizations most “valuable asset – your people.”

After you have established this support within your organization, the next step is to locate an external ergonomics company to support you in attaining your goals. Depending on the scope of your project, the cost for this support need not be large specifically when compared to the potential costs if any injury was incurred. Time should be spent selecting the external ergonomic consultant to ensure they are fully supportive and that their business focus is complementary to yours. Homewood Health Centre has found this match through our partnership with Options Inc.

Summary of the Furniture Moving Assessment

A detailed evaluation of the current practices and equipment used was completed by Options in order to identify and quantify potential areas of concern and improvement. The goals of this evaluation was to not only improve the safety, health and comfort of workers, but also to make the furniture moving tasks as effortless and efficient as possible. To achieve these goals, the Ergonomist presented potential technique and equipment solutions and they were presented to the workers responsible for the furniture moving tasks. From there, the best solutions were chosen, implementation is in progress, and a follow-up assessment will be completed.

Ergonomic Improvement Opportunity

Past assessments for various other positions at our facility had identified some common issues dealing with less than ideal working postures. Following a high level review, these concerns proved applicable to this task as well, in addition to the concern that the size and weight of the furniture to be moved was often unavoidably awkward and heavy.

Through the analysis, it was observed that many furniture moving tasks required a team lift of at least two workers, and that these tasks were largely only completed by the same two workers. As a result of regular two-person lifting, the concerns related to proper working posture and technique were rated as high importance. This was due to the fact that a lift with more than one person can increase load instability and thus increase the risk of the task.

The (itals)moving equipment or assistive aids(enditals) used by the furniture movers was evaluated. The various carts and dollies used by the workers were either home-made carts or commercial carts that had been modified to better meet workers needs. For some of the tasks, the carts were less than ideal for the type of large loads being transferred resulting in unstable loads or awkward postures. Some of the concerns included soft wheels which flattened under heavy loads, the absence of straps to secure awkward loads to the carts, and flat bed carts with insufficient surface area to ideally load and transport large objects. In addition, the convenience of the equipment was noted to be a factor in whether or not they were utilized. For example, it was noted that if workers only had to move one folding table, they would often not use a cart at all.

Finally, the weight of frequently handled (itals)tables(enditals) and the resultant awkward postures required was also identified as a potential concern and area of improvement.

Reflecting on these issues, it was decided that the goal of this project would be to ensure that all furniture moving tasks were able to be completed efficiently and safely by any workers, and ultimately to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries to these workers.


To begin the analysis a meeting was held with the Ergonomist, principle furniture mover and the area manager in order to identify the tasks which they felt were most commonly done, and most physically strenuous. Full assessment of all the furniture moving tasks was then completed. This report identified the following:

  • lifting, lowering and carrying posture issues due to awkward object dimensions (furniture, tables) less than ideal moving carts and unanticipated load shifting while lifting in a team;
  • force issues due to inappropriate equipment (carts, cart wheels) and use of equipment;
  • recommendations for implementing mandatory and proper cart use when transporting any furniture pieces; and
  • the storage located for equipment (carts, assistive aids, tables) is less than ideal as it is not centrally located.

Recommendations and limitations were based on recognized guidelines and limits, which were identified in the report.

Identify Solutions

Following the identification and explanation of all risk factors, Options proposed multiple solutions for them. Common to all proposed solutions was the recommendation of body mechanics training in order to ensure that the workers were able to complete the unavoidably heavy work of furniture moving as safely as possible. Equipment specific solutions included recommendations for improving the existing carts with new wheels and safety straps, or the purchase of new carts. Solutions specific to the frequently handled tables included a more centrally located storage location, new lighter tables, and multiple as well as single table carts.

Worker Participation Input

In order to attain worker feedback, which is critical when considering making any ergonomic improvements, a participative approach was taken. Each proposed solution was presented by Options to all workers involved in furniture moving tasks at general meetings. During these meetings, the feasibility of implementation of each solution was discussed and some sample products were trialed. The workers were free to comment on each proposed solution, as well as suggest any additional solutions that they had at that time. In fact, the final purchasing decisions were based on their feedback.

Implement Solutions

As an immediate method of containment, all workers in the department participated in Options Inc. General Body Mechanics training that could be applied to all of their housekeeping tasks. Additional training will be conducted for the primary furniture movers specific to the new equipment and assistive aids once it has all been received and prior to implementation.

Some examples of solutions implemented and pending are:

  • Tables: We replaced the existing wood tables with plastic tables resulting in a decrease of over 40 per cent in table weight.
  • Carts/Moving Devices: Carts that permit loading using neutral postures and improved mobility and handling have been purchased. Mover dollies that permit accommodation of varying size loads easily.
  • General: Dedicated more centralized storage location for all equipment including tables, carts and dollies.

Evaluate and Sustain Solutions

Although purchasing new equipment and conducting the training sessions as outlined is a major portion of addressing the concerns and containing the identified risks, this is not the end of the project. The final and ongoing portion of this project is continuously monitoring the success of these changes through regular follow-up and re-evaluation. Maintaining the participative relationship created between management, furniture movers and Options Inc. is critical to ensuring long term success and sustainability.

  Sanitation Canada “How Furniture Movers Can Work "Smarter Not Harder”” http://perkspub.com/content/view/757/88/

Ergonomics and our Future Workforce: Young or Old – Who should we focus on?

Much attention has been brought recently to ergonomics and the aging workforce due to the fact that the baby boomer generation continues to work into their 60’s. With Statistics Canada estimating that 41% of the population will be between the ages of 45-64 in the year 2011 we know that we are on the edge of a new and challenging demographic shift. However, when the baby boomer generation retires and the younger workforce (generation X and Y) begin to monopolize the workforce another new challenge will be present. A generation that has grown up with computers, mobile electronic gaming devices, cell phones and other technological advances will be entering the workforce potentially with the same number of years of computer use as those who are retiring. Since we know that a large component of ergonomic related injuries are related to cumulative exposure – where does that leave us? What kind of issues are these new workers going to have and what can we do to help prevent future concerns? It is time to focus on our young future workers as well as our aging ones!

Technology Impacts

With the younger workforce of today being at the heart of the technological age, they have been using computers and gaming systems for a significant portion of their lives. This has led to children and young people spending more time doing sedentary activities often involving prolonged and poor postures. A recent study has shown that third and fourth graders are expected to remain seated for two thirds of the school day, thus adding to this inactivity level. When looked at from a large scale perspective, approximately 45 million children attend schools in the United States, and almost all are exposed to computers in that setting. While this is often seen as an advancement from an educational perspective, from an ergonomic and health perspective this could be contributing to musculoskeletal concerns if proper ergonomic principles are not implemented.

It should be noted that we are not suggesting that computer use in schools be eliminated, but that proper ergonomic techniques, as well as pacing principles be included. One of the main concerns being highlighted in this article is the cumulative exposure that youths are undergoing. A 1999 survey of youths between 2 and 18 years of age found that they spent an average of more than 4 hours a day on television, videos, video games, and the computer. When this group reaches the workforce they have often already had years of computer experience but they are just now starting to get paid for it.

The effects of cumulative loading on the body are well documented. The wide spread term “Repetitive Strain Injuries” used to refer to ergonomic related conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome points us to one of the main causes of these concerns, repetition. As a result, since repetition and cumulative exposure are beginning earlier in a person’s life, the effects are starting more quickly after entering the workforce. In addition to outright repetition and cumulative exposure, the risk factor of poor postures is also present on a re-occurring basis. Think about the postures people use when using small game controllers, mobile gaming systems, cell phones and PDA’s. When these postures are sustained for prolonged periods of time they can become a concern.

Manual Labour Impacts

When younger workers enter the workforce, they often start with entry level manual labour tasks. If you couple this requirement for physical work with the increase in inactivity documented with our youth of today, questions regarding how physically fit they are for these types of positions arise. These questions, coupled with the WorkSafeBC statistics stating that the number one danger for young workers is lifting objects should not be ignored.

When looked at in detail, these lifting concerns were sprains, strains and tears related to lifting boxes, crates, bags, buckets, pallets, lumber, and structural metal materials. A significant number of these injuries occur to material handlers, retail and grocery sales clerks, labourers, and shippers and receivers. This could be for a number of reasons, including the documented fact that young workers tend to take more risks. They may do this due to - inexperience/lack of training, a sense of youthful invincibility, or the unwillingness to ask questions to name a few. Any of these reasons can contribute to a young worker lifting quickly and without taking the time to use proper posture. The simple act of taking a step to reduce a reach and get closer to the load being lifted can reduce the likelihood of an acute strain. As a result, ensuring that our young workers understand the importance of this and that the practice of ergonomics becomes a natural part of their life is critical.

“Take Away” Thoughts

Practicing proper ergonomics is important at any age. Early intervention and education on basic ergonomic principles are invaluable. Simple things such as an ergonomically friendly workstation, taking time to adjust equipment, and taking frequent breaks to vary tasks can make a big difference in the long run. Take the time to education our children on general ergonomic principles and practice what you preach! If you have a computer at home why not work through the Office Ergo Online Training Tool to see if you can set up your station to best support your children as well as you? (For additional tips feel free to reference one of our archived articles)

It is also important to remember that younger bodies are not invincible but also have a threshold breaking point. The time has come for the practice or initiation of the younger/new worker having to “pay their dues” and suffer through the manual labour or make due with the less than ideal workstation to be broken!

Remember your perceptions may require some adjusting since we really don’t know what the next decade will bring!

Aging workers = 20 yrs computer use, work hardened but aging muscles
Young workers = 20 yrs computer use, young but de-conditioned muscles

Who requires more of your attention?

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