A Systems Approach to Ergonomics

Managing an ergonomics process is far from easy. Sustaining an ergonomics process is an even bigger challenge, and one that many companies have experienced firsthand this past year in the face of the pandemic.

Using a systems approach to manage an ergonomics process is a very effective way to sustain it. Most companies will experience ebbs and flows of resources (time, people, money) at some point in time because of things like market conditions (the 2008 recession), global supply chain disruptions (a boat stuck in the Suez canal), workforce limitations (the massive decline in women participating in the labor market in 2020 and 2021), or yes, a global pandemic. The more you can integrate ergonomics into other systems within your facility or company, the more resistant it will be to the inevitable fluctuations companies will experience.

Consider integrating your ergonomics process into as many existing systems as possible, such as:

  • Design. Include ergonomics in your product and process design phases just like you would any other gate criteria. Provide a set of design criteria that engineers can use to ensure they are not introducing new risk. Use lessons learned about ergonomics from previous designs to avoid similar situations in the future.
  • Quality. Conduct an ergonomics assessment as part of a quality investigation. Quality issues and musculoskeletal disorder risk factors are often correlational.
  • Lean. Include ergonomics improvements as a part of any kaizen or continuous improvement event to benefit from both increased productivity and decreased risk. Address MSD hazards during the event and verify that you haven’t introduced unexpected ones as a result of the changes. 
  • Purchasing. Similar to design, include a set of purchasing specifications to ensure that the purchasing team buys equipment that doesn’t require a re-design later. Ensure that the lowest price includes both purchase and operation costs. 
  • Safety. Similar to quality, incorporate ergonomics assessments as part of any other risk assessment you are conducting for safety. (You may even be able to use the same data, such as video and operator surveys.)

Managing your ergonomics process using a systems approach and integrating it into other processes within your company will protect it from being one retirement, budget cut, or winning lottery ticket away from failure.

To learn more about managing ergonomics using a systems approach, we invite you to register for The Short Conference. W.L. Gore will share its process of managing ergonomics to provide you with real-world examples and successes.