FAQs : NS Labour and Advanced Education, Ergonomics

The following are common questions about applying ergonomics in the workplace.

Q: How do I know when I need help in ergonomics?

A: There are many triggers that could indicate your workplace needs some ergonomics help.

Triggers that suggest you may already have a problem include the following.

  • If employees in your workplace, or certain specific work areas within, are experiencing soft-tissue injuries such as tendinitis, back injuries, sore muscles, etc. Regularly review your lost-time statistics, WCB records, absenteeism records, and listen to workers' comments.
  • High rates of general absenteeism and/or worker turn-over can also be indicators of poor workplace design.
  • High number of mistakes, or requirement for rework on products due to poor quality can also have a basis in ergonomics.
  • Poor, or declining, productivity over the course of the work period also can mean the work is not designed well for workers.
Aside from detecting these triggers, you may wish to obtain help in ergonomics, proactively, to prevent problems. This is the most effective and resource-efficient way to incorporate ergonomics into your workplace! Address ergonomics:
  • Whenever you are building or buying something new for the workplace, including premises, workstations, equipment, tools, etc.
  • Whenever you are modifying existing premises, workspaces, jobs or equipment.

Q: How do I find an ergonomics consultant (Ergonomist)?

Your first concern should be that the consultant is qualified and experienced in the type of application you wish to pursue. These characteristics are important to ensure quality control in the work to be performed. It really pays to do a little up-front homework, before you pay out valuable dollars and cents!

To determine whether an individual is qualified and experienced, there are several questions you need to research and/or ask:

  • Is the person a certified Ergonomist? By what body?
    In Canada, we have Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomists (CCPE). You might also see Ergonomists with the designation BCPE, an American type of certification.
  • Does the person belong to an Ergonomics Association?
    In Canada, we have the Association of Canadian Ergonomists (ACE). Most qualified Ergonomists belong to ACE.
    Check what membership category the person holds. There are many qualified Ergonomists in Canada who are not yet certified, and s/he would have been classified as a Full Member of ACE.

    Visit the ACE website, or call the ACE office toll-free at 1-888-432-2223 to check out membership and certification status of a prospective ergonomics consultant.

  • Does the person have experience relevant to your type of problem?
    If your workplace is industrial and your problem is soft-tissue injuries, make sure you hire someone with experience in these areas.
  • Ask for references and check them. Alternatively, ask around to see if other local businesses have used the services of an Ergonomist. What was their experience? Would they hire the same person again?
  • If possible, meet with the prospective consultant before hiring them to discuss your problem and expectations. This will give you a better 'feel' for how well you think you will work together.

Q: How can I get the most out of working with an Ergonomist?

To obtain the best long-term result for your company, do a bit of homework before you start an ergonomics project.

  • Define your problem(s) or need for ergonomics help as clearly as you can. Quantify the existing problem in terms of how your company is being impacted... number of injuries, lost-time days,...the work area(s) or workers most affected, WCB costs, etc. Providing a consultant with this type of information can help them to zero in more quickly on where to focus their efforts. Also, you will have some baseline information to compare to after the project has been completed, allowing you to determine how effective your efforts were.
  • Define your expectation(s) for the project. Then, together with the consultant, establish items like the following:
    • when the project will start.
    • time frame for completing the project.
    • schedule for updating you on project progress.
    • budget available for project.
    • type(s) of deliverables (e.g. a report, a training package, etc.)
    Your expectations should be reflected back to you by the consultant, in some form of project outline or proposal.
  • Learn a bit about the type of problem you are experiencing, and/or the types of solutions that might exist. Visit a few websites (see Useful Links) to familiarize yourself with some of the terms. Be an informed consumer!
  • Be prepared to actively participate throughout the project. This may take many forms:
    • providing information to the consultant.
    • providing a liaison / representative to accompany and orient the consultant.
    • freeing up employees to participate in surveys, or to demonstrate work activities.
    • meeting with the consultant regularly throughout the project to monitor progress and/or to adjust direction if necessary.
    • providing feedback (positive and negative) to the consultant.

Q: How much does it cost to address ergonomics in the workplace?

The real answer is that it can vary tremendously! Consider the following points.

  • When incorporated during the planning or decision stage of building, buying or modifying something in the workplace (proactive), ergonomics benefits often come for free! The 'cost' is in the form of taking the time to plan properly.
  • Conversely, when ergonomics is applied to correct existing problems (reactive), there will be financial costs to varying degrees. Depending on the type of business you are in and the extent of problem that exists, ergonomic improvements can range from inexpensive to very expensive. Note that many workplace improvements can be made for minor costs.
  • Different types of ergonomics interventions can be made, such as engineering design changes and organizational design changes. It is typically easier to determine outlay costs for outright purchases, or engineering type modification projects. However, changes to the organization of work, such as implementing a work rotation scheme, also are associated with financial costs - they are just much harder to measure!
  • Similarly, ergonomics problems can be addressed to varying degrees. Eliminating the root causes completely may cost more than making a change that reduces the risk. Your budget and resources will help to dictate the extent to which to adopt ergonomic changes.
  • Initiatives that are undertaken to improve productivity, efficiency and/or quality can be easier to cost justify than projects based solely on reducing injuries. Whenever possible, look for opportunities within other cost-justified projects to make ergonomic improvements. Alternatively, when looking at ways to address ergonomics-related problems, consider whether you might expand the project scope to include productivity/efficiency and/or quality gains.
  • Consider what it is costing you to ignore ergonomics-related problems. Aside from the more obvious direct costs associated with WCB premiums, there are many indirect costs that are harder to measure, but nonetheless do cost your business. Some of these are costs associated with recruiting and training replacement workers, overtime coverage wages, administrative time associated with investigating injuries and managing lost-time cases, etc. These are estimated to cost 1-5 times what you are paying in direct costs. By having insight to these costs, you will be in a better position to determine how much you can spend to make improvements.
  • One of the biggest mistakes made by companies when addressing ergonomics is to make a large investment in an 'easy' solution that is not very effective at resolving the problem. Avoid this problem by:
    • fully defining the root cause(s), and
    • considering alternative solutions
    before spending money. Consultation with a qualified and experienced ergonomics professional can also help to ensure your dollars are spent effectively.
  • There are effective ergonomics strategies for every size of business. Adjust your ergonomics efforts to suit your budget.

Q: Are there laws that regulate ergonomics in the workplace?

Section 13 of Nova Scotia's Occupational Health and Safety Act (commonly viewed as the 'General Duty Clause') specifies that "every employer shall take every precaution that is reasonable in the circumstances to ensure the health and safety of persons at or near the workplace". Although not named specifically, this can include ergonomic issues where an officer on investigation determines that reasonable steps are not being taken to address a hazard and the resulting risk in a workplace.

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