Musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, account for a significant portion of the injuries/illnesses experienced by most work organizations. Ranging from back strains to carpal tunnel syndrome, it is common for employers to find MSDs accounting for 40% or more of their injury cases, and 60% of their workers compensation costs. Safety professionals, engineers, and human resource managers have turned to the science of ergonomics to understand and address work conditions that increase the risk of MSDs. Manufacturing managers are also looking to ergonomics for applications that improve efficiency and productivity.
Preventing MSDs and increasing productivity generally requires a two-pronged application of ergonomics: a reactive program of identifying, analyzing and correcting "problem jobs", and a proactive process of integrating ergonomics into process and product design. Highly trained and skilled ergonomists can often identify and solve problems "on the fly", but the "expert" approach often lacks employee involvement, a key ingredient for success. Many organizations do not have the benefit of having internal ergonomists readily available, so they look to their safety professionals or outside consultants for these specialized services.
Whether ergonomics is handled by plant teams, safety professionals, or trained ergonomists, there is often a need for systematic assessments to identify and quantify injury risk and opportunity potential. Ergonomic analysis tools are designed to meet these needs. In general, ergonomic tools attempt to answer three fundamental questions:
Is there a problem or opportunity with a task?
If a problem or opportunity exists, what is the nature of the risk or inefficiency?
How much injury risk or potential productivity benefit exists?
Ergonomic tools can also be used to assess intervention success post hoc.
One issue facing many safety professionals and ergonomists is selecting ergonomic analysis tools that will enable them and their organizations to answer the fundamental questions above. Selecting ergonomic tools warrants careful study and consideration. Proper selection can yield relevant data, widespread use by employee ergonomic teams, and process credibility with managers. Choosing inappropriate tools can frustrate teams, confuse managers, and yield data that do not adequately assess risk. This can compromise the entire ergonomics process and its credibility.
The intent of the presentation is to provide participants with:
An understanding of the key factors to consider when selecting ergonomic analysis tools
A process for systematically considering these factors and comparing tools
A summary of the capabilities and applicability of several commonly used analysis tools
Selecting ergonomic analysis tools requires an understanding of the users or analysts, the types of tasks being analyzed, the characteristics of the tools themselves, and the intended use of collected data. The key considerations within each of these four areas are summarized below.
Analysts exposed to college coursework in ergonomics often have sufficient knowledge of the field to readily identify risk factors and appreciate the limitations of various tools.