Now that most people are aware of office ergonomics, employer's obligations though legislation, have an ergonomics program or at least have invested in equipment from the 2000's, employees are able to freely identify risk factors at their workstations without fear of being labelled a "squeaky wheel".
The Return on Investment (ROI) for creating a workplace ergonomics program is obvious; reduced costs associated with injuries, decreased employee lost time and WCB rates, increased productivity and employee morale. What might not be as clear is whether it is better to hire an Ergonomist or train employees to conduct the ergonomic assessments in your workplace. Here are some considerations for you to keep in mind when at this crossroad:
Hiring an Ergonomist: Professional fees in Canada can range from $85-$150/hr for a certified ergonomist/ergonomic specialist to conduct individual assessments. The Profession of Ergonomics is widely represented by several disciplines and choosing the right Ergonomic Consultant should include researching the consultants to find the right fit for your workplace. You may want to choose an Ergonomists with a medical background like physiotherapists and occupational therapists to accommodate employees with medical issues and disabilities. Occupational Therapists also treat clients with Mental Health issues, which is a great skill set to have when looking at workplace issues that might affect the employee's health including stress and production deadlines.
An office ergonomic assessment report usually takes about an hour and the report may take longer. The report should outline all the ergonomic risk factors and provide recommendations in the areas of administration, engineering and behaviour. These professionals should be keeping your suppliers and your budget in mind when making recommendations to allow for ease of implementation. Beware of Ergonomic Specialists that represent ergonomic product retailers, although it is unethical to recommend products they could benefit gains from, it does happen, so an independent consulting firm is a better choice for feature focused not brand focused recommendations.
A good Ergonomist stays in touch with best practices in ergonomics, ergonomic products and equipment features, so you can rest assured they have seen it all and have a solution for most everything they encounter. They can answer questions about products and barriers you experience, so t your ergonomic issues are solved quickly and cost effectively.
If you are a large office of more than 50 people, you may find hiring an Ergonomist to conduct an ergonomic assessment for every employee that identifies a risk factor, could break your budget, both with professional fees and the cost of implementing the recommendations. You may choose to create a priority list of those employees needing assessments that you could approve as your budget allows.
Training Employees to be Assessors: If you are interested in saving money on professional fees you may want to invest in having one or two employees trained to be Ergonomic Assessors. They would obviously not have the expertise that a professional Ergonomist does, but they could learn to identify risk factors and solve ergonomic issues for their co-workers. Choose employees who are on your Workplace Safety and Health Committee or who are interested in the area of ergonomics, as it will be adding to their current job responsibilities and will require outside time researching ergonomic products and solutions.
You should research Ergonomic Assessor Training in your area to determine which company you will hire to train your employees and what your budget allows for. Often these courses are between $900-3000 so it's worth it to shop around. The training for office ergonomic assessors should be at least a full day that includes theory and guided practice so the participants can learn what information they need to collect, how to identify risk factors and how to solve those risks through administrative, engineering and behavioural changes. Ensure the instructor is a professional ergonomist so their expertise seeps into the veins of the participants. Ask about consultation fees for supporting the newly trained Ergonomic Assessors, so that if they need questions answered or help with a tough ergonomic scenario, the consultant is available to provide support with no hidden charges.
The advantage of training your employees to do the assessments is that you save on professional fees with every assessment, but remember the cost of the solutions will be the same, or more if your in-house assessors do not have the inside scoop on no or low cost solutions or where to get products or solutions for less. It is a good idea to send your in-house assessors for professional development workshops and training ongoing, to make sure they are current with Ergonomic best practices.
Final thoughts on this are; Hiring an ergonomist to conduct hundreds of assessments may bust your budget, but if you hire one for the occasional assessment and to handle the assessments for employees with medical issues, you benefit from their ergonomic expertise, medical background, problem solving and product knowledge. Training employees to be Ergonomic Assessors saves on professional fees but solutions may cost more due to lack of experience, no medical background modest product knowledge. If you are hiring a professional Ergonomist, ensure they do not represent ergonomic product brands, have good medical background and share references. If you are Training your employees to be Ergonomic Assessors, ensure the training company provides on-going support, and send them to workshops and additional training moving forward to assist them in keeping up with best practices.
Marnie Courage, OT Reg. (MB)