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The ideal scenario for any professional ergonomist starting an ergonomics process is to assess a set list of jobs that are “cyclical”, or take place on a consistent, regimented schedule within a controlled facility. Creating a plan for completing baseline risk assessments and allowing that data to guide all your improvement decisions is always easy when you’re working from a finite list.

But, what do you do when there are non-cyclical tasks that might be performed as needed in a plethora of environments, and have exponential options for methods of completion? With all these factors to consider, it may feel like creating a baseline will take your entire career! How do you help the employees responsible for those tasks quickly and efficiently?

#1: Focus on Forces. It’s common knowledge among experienced ergonomists that the most important indicator for Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) is high forces. The higher the force, the higher the risk of injury to that employee. Combine this information with the trend that low-frequency jobs often require higher force— sometimes considerably higher—than cyclical jobs, and the first step in prioritizing jobs for risk assessments becomes clear. Start your ergonomics process by determining which jobs require the most force, either through the actual weight of the objects the employee must interact with or through the operational forces involved in performing the task steps.

#2: Educate the Frontline. How do you determine which jobs require the highest forces? The answer is simple — talk to the people who perform that work. How will they know when to inform you that a force is too high? Because you’ve trained them on what levels of force elevate their risk of injury and how to raise a concern when they experience it. With this training, those frontline employees will be the best source of information on what jobs involve the most effort as well as a wealth of knowledge on constraints to consider for any improvement options.

#3: Avoid Paralysis by Analysis. A good ergonomics process is a continuous improvement process. Investing a lot of time and money into a risk assessment database that doesn’t produce improvements is pointless. However, fixing the 3rd worst problem within a task, instead of the 1st problem, is still fixing a problem, which will still reduce that employee’s hazard exposure. So it’s critical that the top priority of any ergonomics team is to implement improvements that reduce the presence of risk factors.

Evaluating non-cyclical work may not be the ideal situation in an ergonomics process, but it still needs to be done. Employees performing this work deserve our attention, support, and any creative solutions we can give them.