Ergonomics is defined by Merriam-Webster as “designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.” Workplace ergonomics can be recommended by occupational therapists and are being adapted in different work environments.
Many people think of OSHA when they think of ergonomics, but OT’s can also be highly qualified. With the skills and knowledge in anatomy, physiology, and activity analysis, occupational therapists can help business owners and employees adapt their ergonomics to make a more productive and safe work environment. To be proactive in preventing work-related injuries, employers are turning to workplace ergonomic programs. Administrative offices, hospitals, and manufacturing plants are just a few environments that can benefit from workplace ergonomics.
The Role of OT’s in Workplace Ergonomics
Occupational therapists that specialize in workplace ergonomics help companies fulfill requirements of the American with Disabilities Act, evaluate and modify equipment design, and determine/reduce injury risk factors. Also, if an employee suffers an injury, OT’s can help him or her return to work quicker and increase comfort and productivity with modifications.
Not only are the job requirements assessed, but a holistic approach is taken to address the person and his/her needs as well. For example, if an employee is dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome but needs to type on a keyboard to efficiently carry out tasks, a specialized keyboard with more support may be recommended.
Perceived Barriers of Workplace Ergonomics
Employers might be reluctant to make changes to the workplace for many reasons. Potential costs, unseen value, and the possibility of increased time to complete a task are just a few. But, occupational therapists work to involve both employees and employers in the process. If workers embrace and support the modifications, it will greatly benefit the company as a whole.
By addressing the physical, psychosocial, and cultural aspects of making changes in a business environment, OT’s understand how to encourage and facilitate behavioral changes. Sometimes, objectives are set to measure the effectiveness of workplace ergonomics and to identify changes that need to be made over time.
Benefits of OT in Workplace Ergonomics
Occupational therapists take a unique approach to workplace ergonomics by evaluating the situation as a whole. The environment, tasks, and personal abilities are assessed before making any recommendations. OT’s can also work alone or with a team including workers, union representatives, HR managers, safety professionals, and medical personnel. Whether alone or as a team, there are great benefits of integrating occupational therapy and ergonomics.
Occupational therapists can design specialized intervention plans for both an individual worker and a group of employees.
If one worker suffers an injury that might affect their work, an occupational therapist might be called upon. If the worker is already attending OT sessions, the practitioner might be the one to recommend a visit to the workplace. Evaluating and modifying the individual worker’s environment can allow the employee to get back to work quicker and be as efficient as possible. Individual interventions allow OT’s to focus on the specific needs of one employee.
Group of Workers
Occupational therapists can provide groups of workers with educational materials and programs to promote health and injury prevention. They can teach workers how to complete simple tasks in a more ergonomically safe way to reduce the risk of injury. This brings the company together as a whole and involves everyone in workplace ergonomics and risk prevention.
Modifications for Injury Prevention
By working with an occupational therapist that specializes in workplace ergonomics, modifications can be made to prevent injury. This can include the design and set-up of tools, equipment, and even the behaviors and motions of employees. For example, instead of lifting heavy items that can cause lower back pain, they can be slid on surfaces of equal height. Also, custom desk and keyboard setups for each worker can reduce injury.
Employers may think that implementing ergonomic changes will be a huge cost. This could be true in the short-term, but long-term costs can drastically be reduced. Instead of thinking of workplace ergonomics as an expense, view it as an investment. Workplace ergonomics can decrease costs of workers’ compensation, employee turnover, and also help better retain employees. If you invest in your employees’ wellness, comfort, and productivity, it’s likely that you will benefit as an employer in the long run.