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Setting the Stage for Action


Fred A. Manuele, author of On the Practice of Safety, considers occupational ergonomics to be "the art and science of designing the work to fit the worker to achieve optimum productivity and cost efficiency, and minimum risk of injury." To best fulfill the goal to achieve these benefits through ergonomics, a sound program should be developed. A program that includes a written plan, education, training, and effective procedures to identify, analyze, and evaluate work for ergonomic risk factors.

As with other workplace safety and health issues, managers and employees both play key roles in setting the stage: developing and carrying out an ergonomics program. It's important that management understand the benefits of an effective ergonomics program.

Ergonomic Programs that Work

Ergonomics: Safety and Health Program

Ergonomics programs should not be regarded as separate from those intended to address other workplace hazards. Aspects of hazard identification, case documentation, assessment of control options, and health care management techniques that are used to address ergonomic problems use the same approaches directed toward other workplace risks of injury or disease. Although many of the technical approaches described in this course are specific to ergonomic risk factors and MSDs, the core principles are the same as efforts to control other workplace hazards.

Reactive vs. Proactive Approaches

Proactive ergonomics activities emphasize efforts at the design stage of work processes to recognize needs for avoiding risk factors that can lead to musculoskeletal problems. The goal is to design operations that ensure proper selection and use of tools, job methods, workstation layouts, and materials that impose no undue stress and strain on the worker.

Reactive vs. Proactive
(Click to enlarge)

Essential Considerations

Ergonomics issues are identified and resolved in the planning process. In addition, general ergonomic knowledge, learned from an ongoing ergonomics program, can be used to build a more prevention-oriented approach.

Management commitment and employee involvement in the planning activity are essential. For example, management can set policies to require ergonomic considerations for any equipment to be purchased and production employees can offer ideas on the basis of their past experiences for alleviating potential problems.

Planners of new work processes involved in the design of job tasks, equipment, and workplace layout, must become more aware of ergonomic factors and principles. Designers must have appropriate information and guidelines about risk factors for MSDs and ways to control them. Studying past designs of jobs in terms of risk factors can offer useful input into their design strategies.

Expressions of Management Commitment


Management commitment is a key and perhaps the most important controlling factor in determining whether any worksite hazard control effort will be successful. Management commitment is more than just "support." Support is merely talk, but real commitment is expressed by actually backing up that talk with action which takes time and money. Remember, support = talk and commitment = action!

Management commitment can be expressed in a variety of ways. Lessons learned from NIOSH case studies of ergonomic hazard control efforts in the meatpacking industry emphasize the following points regarding evidence of effective management commitment:

Policy statements are issued that:

  • Treat ergonomic efforts as furthering the company's strategic goals
  • Expect full cooperation of the total workforce in working together toward realizing ergonomic improvements
  • Assign lead roles to designated persons who are known to "make things happen"
  • Give ergonomic efforts priority with other cost reduction, productivity, and quality assurance activities
  • Have the support of the local union or other worker representatives
  • Allow full discussion of the policy and the plans for implementation
  • Set concrete goals that address specific operations and give priority to the jobs posing the greatest risk

Resources are committed to:

  • Train the workforce to be more aware of ergonomic risk factors for MSDs
  • Provide detailed instruction to those expected to assume lead roles or serve on special groups to handle various tasks
  • Bring in outside experts for consultations about start-up activities and difficult issues at least until in-house expertise can be developed
  • Implement ergonomic improvements as may be indicated
  • Provide release time or other compensatory arrangements during the workday for employees expected to handle assigned tasks dealing with ergonomic concerns

It's important to furnish information to all those involved in or affected by the ergonomic activities. Misinformation or misperceptions about such efforts can be damaging: If management is seen as using the program to gain ideas for cutting costs or improving productivity without equal regard for employee benefits, the program may not be supported by employees. For example, management should be up-front regarding possible impacts of the program on job security and job changes. All injury data, production information, and cost considerations need to be made available to those expected to make feasible recommendations for solving problems.


Employee Involvement

Promoting employee involvement in efforts to improve workplace ergonomic conditions has several benefits. They include:

  • enhanced worker motivation and job satisfaction,
  • added problem-solving capabilities,
  • greater acceptance of change, and
  • greater knowledge of the work and organization.

Worker involvement in safety and health issues means obtaining worker input on several issues.

  • The first input is defining real or suspected job hazards.
  • Another is suggesting ways to control suspected hazards.
  • A third involves working with management in deciding how best to put controls into place.

Employee participation in an organization's efforts to reduce work-related injury or disease and ergonomic problems may take the form of direct or individual input. A common involvement process is participation through a joint labor-management safety and health committee, which may be company-wide or department-wide in nature. Membership on company-wide committees includes union leaders or elected worker representatives, department heads, and key figures from various areas of the organization.

Increasing worker involvement

To increase worker involvement in identifying and solving ergonomics-related issues in the workplace, management must show commitment by doing the following:

  1. Making sure ergonomics is a formal (written) part of the safety and health management system by developing ergonomics policies, programs, process, procedures and safe practices.

  2. Sharing information about ergonomics and the results of inspections and workplace analysis.

  3. Training both in ergonomic hazard recognition and control through active participation and group problem solving.

  4. Positive recognition for those who participate in ergonomics as well as other safety activities.

No single form or level of worker involvement fits all situations or meets all needs. Much depends on the nature of the problems to be addressed, the skills and abilities of those involved, and the company's prevailing practices for participative approaches in resolving workplace issues.

Who Should Participate?

Ergonomic problems typically require a response that cuts across a number of organizational units. Hazard identification through job task analyses and review of injury records or symptom surveys, as well as the development and implementation of control measures, can require input from:

  • safety and hygiene personnel,
  • health care providers,
  • human resource personnel,
  • engineering personnel,
  • maintenance personnel, and
  • ergonomics specialists.

In addition, worker and management representatives are considered essential players in any ergonomics program effort.

In small businesses, two or more of the functions noted on this list may be merged into one unit, or one person may handle several of the listed duties. Regardless of the size of the organization, persons identified with these responsibilities are crucial to an ergonomics program. Purchasing personnel in particular should be included, since the issues raised can dictate new or revised specifications on new equipment orders.

How best to fit these different players into the program could depend on the company's existing occupational safety and health program practices. Integrating ergonomics into the company's current occupational safety and health activities while giving it special emphasis may have the most appeal.


Taking a proactive approach to ergonomics is so important to the success of the program. Maximizing employee involvement is one of the keys to a successful proactive ergonomics program. When employees identify and help devise solutions, they gain a degree of ownership. We value what we own. Ownership increases the probability that "EC" (ergonomically correct ;-) behaviors are performed when employees are not being directly supervised.

And, now it's time for your first module quiz. If you are not sure about the answers to the questions, just review the material.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. A proactive approach to ergonomics would emphasize _____.

2. All of the following policies support an effective ergonomics program, except _____.

3. Which of the following best illustrates a real commitment to an ergonomics program?

4. Ergonomic problems typically require a response that cuts across a number of organizational units.

5. All of the following actions result in increased employee involvement in the ergonomics program, except _____.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.