Your ergonomics program might be wasting money

New furniture isn't enough

If your efforts to reduce musculoskeletal pain fall short of getting results, it may be because you bought ergonomic desks and chairs, but failed to have these set up by a professional.1

When The World Bank moved to its new Washington, DC headquarters, researchers gave one group of office workers new ergonomic furniture and written instructions on how to set it up, while another group had theirs set up by an ergonomics expert. Only the second group reduced musculoskeletal pain and eyestrain, and they also increased productivity.

The study's findings indicate that equipment such as adjustable chairs don't add value unless an individual work station assessment is done, says Jasminka Goldoni Laestadius, MD, PhD, an occupational medicine specialist at The World Bank.

Laestadius says that multiple factors determine the success of any office ergonomic program. In World Bank's case, new ergonomic furniture was purchased, hand-outs were distributed about work-station self-adjustment, videos were shown on computer use techniques and adjusting the chair and monitor, information was provided online, satisfaction surveys were conducted, and a streamlined system was implemented to follow up on staff medical inquiries.

However, only individual ergonomic assessments of workstations made a significant difference in improving pain symptoms and productivity. Laestadius says that she wasn't too surprised by this. "Instructions for self adjustment of various elements of computer equipment and furniture are rather complex," she says. "Our employees, who struggle daily with the heavy workload in their demanding jobs, rarely can focus on anything else."

The study showed that staff were barely aware of videos on office layouts and available equipment. "So, investment in creating these video demonstrations was obviously not beneficial at all," she says. In light of these findings, avoid investing time and money in unproductive intervention measures, such as overwhelming staff with written educational material.

Since individual assessments of workstations was very time consuming, a "train the trainer" program was used. The professional ergonomists taught the basics to "ergo champions" who volunteered to share this information with their departments. "This approach was very successful, and helped us to reach out to more employees," says Laestadius.

Reference

1. Laestadius JG, Ye J, Cai X, et al. The proactive approach – Is it worthwhile? A prospective controlled ergonomic intervention study in office workers. J Occup Environ Med 2009; 51(10):1116-24.

SOURCE

For more information on ergonomics programs, contact:

• Jasminka Goldoni Laestadius, MD, PhD, Occupational Medicine Specialist, The World Bank, Washington, DC. Phone: (202) 473-6186. Fax: (202) 522-1616. E-mail: jgoldoni@worldbank.org