RSI Awareness Day: Research suggests using participatory ergonomics

February 28, 2014 (Toronto, Ont.)—In the wake of an award for best article in 2013 from the journal Applied Ergonomics, the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) is suggesting that organizations add participatory ergonomics to their roster of musculoskeletal disorder prevention efforts. The recommendation comes today as workplaces around the world mark International Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day, held annually on the last day of February.

Participatory ergonomics (PE) involves workers, supervisors and other workplace parties working together to identify and address work-related risks that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Musculoskeletal disorders include injuries to muscles, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissues, and are among the leading causes of absence due to work-related injury.

According to the award-winning study, led by IWH Senior Scientist Dr. Emile Tompa, PE programs can be beneficial to the bottom line. We analyzed a PE program at a shirt manufacturer in southwestern Ontario that employed up to 295 workers, comparing the costs of setting up the program with its benefits, says Tompa. We learned that, for every dollar the company spent on the program, it saved $5.50, for a total net benefit of almost $295,000 over a four-year period.

Applied Ergonomics announced last month that Tompa and his team had been awarded the best-paper honour for 2013. The award is given to the article that best demonstrates “the comprehensive application of ergonomics in a clear and interesting fashion.” Tompa will receive the award on April 9 in Southampton, U.K., during the annual conference of the Institute for Ergonomics and Human Factors.

The paper, which appeared in the May 2013 issue of Applied Ergonomics, showed that the shirt manufacturer saved money following the implementation of the PE program due to reductions in five areas: number of first-aid only workplace injuries, number of injuries requiring modified duties, number of casual absenteeism days, number and length of long-term sickness absences, and number of product rejects. A previous case study in another mid-sized manufacturer, also led by Tompa, found similar findings. An auto parts maker saved almost $245,000 after implementing a PE program.

These economic evaluation case studies follow up on previous research at the Institute about what it takes to implement effective PE programs. Led by Associate Scientist Dwayne Van Eerd, the research resulted in a number of recommendations included in a booklet called Reducing MSD Hazards in the Workplace: A Guide to Successful Participatory Ergonomics Programs. The guide is a good place to get started, says Van Eerd. By following its advice, whatever PE process follows will likely be more successful.

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About the Institute for Work & Health

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that aims to protect and improve the health of working people. Recognized as one of the top five occupational health and safety research centres in the world, the Institute provides practical and relevant findings on the prevention of work injury and disability to policy-makers, workers, employers, clinicians, and health, safety and disability management professionals.

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