Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ergonomics Risk Assessment Determining When Why Who and How You Should Perform One

Ergonomic risk assessments ...

"In Part I of this two-part series, the author examines why and when ergonomics risk assessments should be performed.

As ergonomics increasingly becomes a core component of safety programs around the country, the methods used to evaluate and define the ergonomics risk present in a job develop into a critical element of the ergonomics process. When a company begins to look at ergonomics and how to implement an effective process, the basic job analysis is often the starting point, and the point that defines how a company will approach the analysis and abatement of ergonomics risk.

Identification of ergonomics stressors that are linked with the development of musculoskeletal disorders is a key element of any ergonomics activity. In most cases, stressors successfully can be identified using observational and checklist-driven techniques. The detection of ergonomics risk does not require advanced tools or techniques.

This observational approach often the most efficient method of gathering data on the stressors in the working environment, but the density of this data is limited. There is no measure of exposure, risk or any data that will provide a quantitative measure that can be tracked (i.e. improvement of process). The positive characteristics of this type of stressor identification process are the ease in which it is performed, the low cost of the assessment and quick turnaround times. A simple observation approach often can be used to feed a quick fix of an obvious ergonomics stressor. As the situation becomes more complicated, intricate or costly, the need for a more sophisticated approach may present itself.

When a company is interested in advancing its ergonomics job analysis process, the next level of assessment involves the use of risk assessment tools. Now, the term “tool” is used lightly, in that ergonomics risk assessment methods largely are paper-based, with some methods computerized for ease of use. There seldom are complicated pieces of equipment involved, except for a force gauge in some situations. Prior to using an ergonomics risk assessment tool, a company should ask four simple questions:

* Why should we use an ergonomics risk assessment tool?
* Who will be performing the assessments?
* How do we use the risk assessment tool correctly?
* When should we use a specific ergonomics risk assessment tool?

This paper will walk through these four questions to provide a guide to adding ergonomics risk assessments to a safety or ergonomics program.

Why and When Should You Perform an Ergonomics Risk Assessment?

Where ergonomics is concerned, there are often three questions asked:

* Which jobs pose the greatest risk?
* How much is too much?
* How can I show improvements were made?

One of the first steps in ergonomics evaluations is to identify the stressors present in the jobs. This identification usually is accomplished with a subjective evaluation. The evaluator may identify such things as high repetition, high force and/or extreme posture as being present in a job without any measurements. While this type of evaluation may be effective for determining which jobs may need further investigation, the severity of the identified stressors often is difficult to express and/or document. Furthermore, it is difficult to compare different jobs or tasks within a job to determine a prioritization of ergonomics efforts. This leads to the question: “Which jobs pose the greatest risk?"    (Continued via Occupational Hazards)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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