Ergonomics aims to control risk factors such as poor posture, musculoskeletal strain, repetition, glare, noise, temperature and vibration. More recently, it has also considered such things as workflow and ‘psycho-social factors’ that generate stress between people. Ergonomic initiatives give more return on investment (ROI) than many other health and safety initiatives.
Participative ergonomics is an approach that builds on this by maximizing worker input into the process. After all, it is the employees who have the best understanding of the work they do, and how it might be re-engineered to reduce the risk of harm.
A typical participative approach would be to put together a small team, with representation from those who will be affected (workers, supervisors, health and safety reps). This group needs basic ergonomics training, and ideally there would be somebody on board with expertise in the field.
It also needs a clear mandate and resource support from management. The business case for this is powerful with the following research showing a return on investment (ROI) ranging from 3:1 to 15:1.(Return on Investment for Ergonomics Interventions Paper, Ergonomic Principles Every Business Needs to Know, Participatory ergonomics: Evidence and implementation lessons).
Participative Ergonomic Blueprint is a Canadian/Australian guide to implementing participative ergonomics programmes. It can be downloaded here.