American workers have experienced profound shifts in their work environments over the last two years, and ergonomic solutions must evolve in order to keep up. Employees who work onsite face changing work conditions, while those who work remotely or from home may lack access to safety resources. All workers—regardless of location—are at risk of suffering musculoskeletal injuries and chronic pain, with more than half of Americans reporting a related condition.
And it’s not just a problem for workers. Some 90% of employers reported that musculoskeletal pain was a top driver of health care spending in 2020, and employers across the nation spend over $600 billion on chronic pain alone each year between direct and indirect costs. Plus, recent data suggests that the problem is worsening—a survey of practitioners by the American Chiropractic Association revealed that 92% of respondents reported seeing more patients with neck and back pain following the growth of the WFH trend. With stress levels higher than ever for employees whether they work at home, remotely, or in the office, it’s clear that employers should be considering new investments in ergonomic solutions and wellness programs for remote employees.
On a recent edition of the DORN Injury Prevention Academy Podcast, we spoke with Seattle City Lights ergonomist and workplace wellness strategist Keith Osborne, who designed an ergonomic program that has saved the organization some $70 million in six years. In our conversation, Keith shared his insights from the world of workplace ergonomics, offering tips on how to craft a wellness program that meets the needs of both on-site and remote workers. Watch the episode above and read on to learn how employers can build an effective safety plan in five steps.
Step 1: Obtain Buy-in From the Top Down
In order for a workplace wellness and ergonomics program to function effectively, there must be a complete commitment to the process by executive leadership, management, and front-line employees. Any safety program that doesn’t have buy-in from decision-makers will likely fail to reach employees where they are; any program that doesn’t actively pursue participation by employees will fail to effectively resolve hazards and prevent injuries.
To achieve a strong safety culture that values transparency and worker wellness, employers should create policies that encourage employees to report problems and incentivize active participation. Likewise, ergonomics training materials should be readily available to employees and integrated into onboarding and ongoing education.
Step 2: Identify Key Hazards
No ergonomic or safety program can work properly without being tailored to the specific needs of each employer. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to workplace wellness—every industry and enterprise will have particular criteria for a safety plan that change based on the type of work being done, the layout of facilities, available tools and equipment, and the physical demands on employees.
For this reason, it’s highly recommended that employers and their safety leaders conduct thorough ergonomic assessments and site reviews with qualified ergonomic specialists. This will help safety decision-makers identify the most pressing areas of concern and the most common injury and pain risks for workers, allowing employers to craft ergonomic solutions that directly target their employees’ needs.
Step 3: Collect and Analyze Workplace Health Data
The best ergonomic solutions and safety plans are evidence-based and grounded in firsthand data collected on the work environment. This step involves task analysis and evaluations of the kind of exertion being performed by workers, providing information that will help ergonomists target the most effective solutions.
To aid in data collection, some employers have turned to wearable devices such as wrist monitors and work suits embedded with sensors that detect muscle exertion levels during tasks. Robust ergonomic data can help employers tackle other areas of safety, such as fatigue and chronic pain.
Step 4: Provide Ergonomics Training and Wellness Education
Training is a key ingredient of any strong safety and wellness program for employees. In today’s evolving work environments, a mixed approach to training can help reach employees where they are, offering support for remote and at-home workers as well as those on-site. Virtual training modules and live coaching can help employers address safety issues without creating disruptions to workflows, allowing employees to integrate safety education into the normal workday.
Increasingly, employers across the nation are discovering that self-care is an essential element of safety training for employees. Solutions like DORN’s Self-Care Plus can provide workers with intuitive techniques for relieving their own pain and discomfort while creating a more ergonomically safe work environment.
Step 5: Test and Improve
With data in hand and customized training programs implemented across the workforce, safety leaders should remain focused on reviewing the results of their safety strategy and assessing the available data to find opportunities for improvement. Over time, making iterative changes and improvements to an employee wellness program both increases effectiveness at preventing injuries and demonstrates an organizational commitment to worker safety.
Be sure to follow the DORN blog for more workplace safety analysis and subscribe to the DORN Companies channel on YouTube to catch the latest episodes of the Injury Prevention Academy Podcast as they’re released.