Participatory Ergonomics Approach to Successful Ergonomic Interventions

Participatory ergonomics (PE) has been defined as: “the involvement of people in planning and controlling a significant amount of their own work activities, with sufficient knowledge and power to influence both processes and outcomes in order to achieve desirable goals” (Wilson, 1995). There are many other definitions but they share similar elements; the most important being the involvement of key stakeholders in making positive change to their job/task.

Essentially, PE can be looked at as a ‘bottom-up’ approach to ergonomics. Ergonomic evaluations and recommendations are made from a team of invested individuals (workers). The bottom-up approach has been shown to lead to greater acceptance of the ergonomic interventions at the worker level, likely due to their involvement in the change process (Driessen et al, 2010).

It is thought that PE has the potential to reduce musculoskeletal disorder injuries (MSDs). As a result, the general consensus in literature is that a PE approach reduces lost- time days and/or absenteeism. Similarly, it is assumed that PE reduces the existing MSD risk factors, which in turn may reduce injuries. In both instances, the understanding is that PE reduces the costs associated with workplace injuries (Van Eerd et al, 2008).

Logically, the first step in the process of taking a PE approach is to develop a team. It is important to consider who should be on the team. The team will be unique to your worksite; however, employees, managers, OHS representative(s), and someone with ergonomics background/knowledge are common representatives (Van Eerd et al, 2008). Depending on your processes, you might also consider including an engineer(s), maintenance team member(s), Occupational Health Nurse, union representative or anyone else you believe has a key role in the change process.

Once your team is chosen, they need to be educated on ergonomics in order for the change solutions to mitigate the risk factors associated with Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs). The length of training, who delivers it and how in depth it should be has received limited coverage in articles describing PE; however, at minimum, training should include mechanisms of MSD injuries, risk factors, identification of hazards, and strategies for reducing hazards (Rivilis et al, 2008).

Although PE has the potential to be a very effective tool for positive ergonomic change, there are also barriers to success. In the literature, the barriers (or, if managed well, the facilitators) to success most often discussed could fit into one of the following categories:

  • Support of PE intervention
  • Available resources
  • Ergonomic training/knowledge
  • Creation of appropriate team
  • Communication
  • Organizational/training knowledge

To manage some of the associated issues, some workplaces have chosen to split their team and use a multi-level approach:

In these instances, the steering committee acts as a go between from the change team to upper management. The steering committee also works to set goals and objectives for the change team, prioritizing jobs, providing deadlines and other necessary direction (St. Vincent et al, 2006).

Effective cooperation between management and employees can improve workplace culture as employees may start to look at their jobs and workplace in a more positive light. As a long-term relationship is established, the benefits of this can continue, making positive and permanent change to the corporate safety culture (Haims & Carayon, 1998).


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