Motivating Ergonomic Behavior: It's a Fitting Time to Take a Leadership Approach to Ergonomics
Pater, Robert, Occupational Hazards
Many organizations have applied successful engineering interventions to reduce ergonomic-related injuries. And it is important to continue to utilize the best tools and workstation designs and modifications available.
But many companies have settled into a plateau of diminishing returns. After engaging in aggressive redesign and purchasing interventions, they still are beset with ergonomic challenges such as worker resistance to using ergonomic equipment, an inability to fix uncontrollable environments, an aging work force with specific injury-prevention needs or a culture where management expects instant fixes for cumulative problems.
Strategic leadership (or un-common sense) suggests if you are not improving results with your efforts, then you should try a different approach. Defining ergonomics as improving the fit between people and their tasks clears the way to bring workers closer to their work and to influence behavioral change (beyond just equipment design).
Leaders incite change by motivating receptivity and trial of new behaviors, transferring critical mental and physical skills and reinforcing improved performance - all with a goal of setting positive, safe default habits.
In a June 2006 presentation at ASSE's annual Professional Development Conference, I proposed a seven-step approach for motivating ergonomic behavior, based on seeing significant results with companies worldwide:
1. Set and assess ergonomic-motivating objectives. What are your expectations for motivating managers and workers? Are these realistic? For example, strategic executive objectives might include allocating resources that match planned-for returns; actively leading ergonomic interventions; and having reasonable timelines for return on investment (e.g., after an intervention, 6 months may be a realistic minimum for seeing reductions in soft-tissue lost-time injuries).
Worker objectives might include taking responsibility for their own actions (rather than blaming bad design); applying ergonomic decision-making and practices to off-work tasks; making appropriate adjustments for work tool usage; and thinking and planning ahead.
2. Identify barriers to ergonomic receptivity and behavioral change. Strategists can realize significant success by removing obstacles to improved performance. Target perceptions that ergonomics is "for others" or solely a tooling issue. Target the belief that employees are too set in their ways or too busy to change, or the perception that there are not tangible benefits for trying out new actions. Also, target the association between ergonomics and the perception that it is an attempt to squeeze higher productivity from them.
3. Energize all. …