Management Commitment and Employee Involvement

The first step in implementing an ergonomics program is to gain the support of both management and employees. Commitment and involvement are complementary and essential elements of a sound safety and health program. Commitment by management provides the organizational resources and motivating forces necessary to deal effectively with ergonomic hazards. An ergonomics program in the workplace is likely to fail without commitment from management.

Employee involvement and feedback through clearly established procedures are likewise essential, both to identify existing and potential hazards and to develop and implement an effective way to abate all kinds of ergonomic hazards.

Management Commitment

To fulfill the ergonomics program's goals, it is essential that the employer demonstrate leadership by developing ways for employees to report MSDs, respond to those reports, and be involved in the overall ergonomics program. Ensure that your company's policies or practices do not discourage employees from reporting MSD signs or symptoms or from participating in the ergonomics program. To be effective, management leadership must be active rather than passive.

A successful program should take a team approach, and include the following:

  • Management's involvement demonstrated through personal concern for employee safety and health by placing a priority on eliminating the ergonomic hazards.

  • A policy that places safety and health on the same level of importance as production. To accomplish this, production processes and safety and health protection should be integrated to assure that this protection is part of the daily production activity within each facility.

  • The commitment of the employer to assign and communicate responsibility for various aspects of the ergonomics program so that everyone knows what is expected of them.

  • The commitment of adequate authority and resources so that the program can be properly implemented.

  • Employer commitment to ensure that each manager, supervisor, and employee responsible for the ergonomics program is accountable for carrying out those responsibilities.

Employee Involvement

Management leadership and employee involvement are complementary as well as essential to the success of an ergonomics program. Employees' intimate knowledge of the jobs they perform and the special concerns they bring to their job give them a unique perspective that can be used to make the program more effective.

Employee participation provides the means through which workers develop and express their own commitment to safe and healthful work, as well as sharing in the overall success of the company. Employees must have:

  • A way to report MSD signs and symptoms;

  • Prompt responses to their reports;

  • Information about the ergonomics program; and

  • Ways to be involved in developing, implementing and evaluating each element of the ergonomics program.

Form a Committee

One form of employee participation in an organization's efforts to reduce work-related injuries is through a joint labor-management safety and health committee, which may be company-wide or department-wide. Membership on company-wide committees includes union leaders to elected worker representatives, department heads, and key figures from various areas of the organization. At this level, typical committee functions consist of:

  1. Discussing ways to resolve safety and health issues;

  2. Making recommendations for task forces or working groups to plan and carry out specific actions; and

  3. Approving use of resources for such actions and providing oversight.

Committee make-up and function at the department level are more localized, since they are directed to issues specific to their own operations. Composition here can be limited to workers from the department or area engaged in similar jobs who, with their supervisors and select others (e.g., maintenance), propose ways for reducing work-related problems, including those posing injury or disease risks. Because of their smaller size and opportunities for closer contacts among members, such committees may be referred to as a work group. The department or area work group approach appears to be a popular one in addressing ergonomic problems.

Involve People From all Over the Company

Ergonomic problems typically require a response that cuts across a number of organizational units. Hazard identification through job task analyses and review of injury records or symptom surveys, as well as the development and implementation of control measures, can require input from:

  • Safety and hygiene personnel,

  • Health care providers,

  • Human resource personnel,

  • Engineering personnel,

  • Maintenance personnel, and

  • Ergonomics specialists.

In small businesses, two or more of the functions noted on the list may be merged into one unit, or one person may handle several of the listed duties. Regardless of the size of the organization, persons identified with these responsibilities are crucial to an ergonomics program. Purchasing personnel in particular should be included, since the issues raised can dictate new or revised specifications on new equipment orders.

How best to fit these different players into the program may depend on the company's existing occupational safety and health program practices. No single form or level of worker involvement fits all situations or meets all needs. Much depends on the nature of the problems to be addressed, the skills and abilities of those involved, and the company's prevailing practices for participative approaches in resolving workplace issues.

Employee involvement, however, is only effective when the employer welcomes it and provides protection from any discrimination to the employees involved. Inclusion of employees in labor-management committees, safety circle teams, rotational assignments, or in other ways that provide the employee with an opportunity to impact decisions about safety and health protection will strengthen the program for ergonomic hazard protection.

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