With more and more employers becoming interested in the benefits of a well-designed, ergonomic workplace, creating an ergonomic policy is a natural next step. But what needs to be included in an ergonomic policy, and who should be involved? The truth is, while a policy is designed to be straightforward, the design and development process needs to follow a few specific steps to ensure the best possible outcome.
Creating a Workplace Health Assessment
Preliminary research from BMC Public Health shows that workplace health promotion programs have the potential to decrease presenteeism and improve employee performance.
Nobody will argue that ergonomics are an important factor in how businesses operate, but the way we address ergonomic challenges may be up for debate. By developing an ergonomic policy based on an objective workplace health assessment, employers can create a benchmark against which to measure their progress at improving organizational and individual health outcomes.
This health assessment can highlight areas that need to be addressed by the policy, including things such as:
- How often training on ergonomic challenges should be offered
- What kinds of ergonomic interventions are available
- Common types of ergonomics issues, their causes and their remedies
Designing an Ergonomic Policy
The great thing about designing policies is that organizations rarely have to start from scratch. There are a variety of helpful resources available to serve as a starting point or guide through the process.
For instance, the University of North Carolina has its own policy available online. The policy covers important components, such as the key definitions surrounding an ergonomics policy, symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders, how hazards can be addressed and more.
An important part of the policy is the declaration of responsibilities. While the business clearly states its own responsibility to deal with problems as they arise, it also points out that all employees have a measure of accountability for taking the required training and following the appropriate work practices to ensure a safe and healthy working environment.
Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made a sample ergonomics program available for employers to use as a starting point. It's as simple as filling in the blanks and customizing to your own firm's needs as necessary.
Balancing Structure With Flexibility
As with all employer policies, it's important to approach the ergonomics policy with a balance of structure and flexibility. It's impossible to foresee all the ways the policy may be used in the future, and while policies can be revised, it's easiest for all involved if it catches most of the potential issues as it is written.
Not all use cases can be imagined when creating a policy, so it's best to leave it open to interpretation in some areas. For example, the policy might be open about how to accommodate specific ergonomic needs without spelling out the exact remedies to be offered, because different workers may need different types of support.
On the other hand, it might be best to set more specific limits to help keep the policy consistent in how it is applied. For instance, setting dollar limits on types of ergonomic needs up front may help to prevent issues with employee expectations not being met when they bring an invoice for a $5,000 office chair they purchased to help with a back issue.