In Workforce Shortages: The BMW Solution we learned about the strategies BMW incorporated to retain older workers. We discovered the modifications implemented provided benefits beyond retaining older workers, including, reduced injuries, defect rates, and absenteeism. Their efforts can be used to assist other businesses and organizations as they work to retain older workers.
During a visit to my hair stylist, I learned that musculoskeletal injuries are common in cosmetologist. She shared with me that her employer provided training to reduce injuries and strain related to standing and styling hair. While commendable, additional strategies are necessary to reduce risk of injuries and promote employee longevity.
The salon had recently been updated. Remodeling is the perfect opportunity to incorporate ergonomic modifications. Unfortunately a significant modification for employees who spend most of the day on their feet was omitted: flooring. Vinyl flooring was laid on top concrete. As a result, anti-fatigue mats had to be purchased because of knee pain reported by employees. What’s more, it needs to be replaced because the flooring product was not designed for commercial application.
Wood flooring or other anti-fatigue flooring options are more costly at initial install. However, BMW demonstrated that the cost savings may be achieved through reduced risk of employee absenteeism or turnover due to musculoskeletal injuries. Additional cost savings may be anticipated by reduced business downtime for floor repair or replacement.
Step 1: Identify problems
Many jobs increase our risk of injury. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome is common among people who spend many hours using a computer. The first step to identify problem is to review injury records. Next, observe workplace conditions with a critical eye to identify risk factors (e.g. prolonged or repetitive reaching above shoulder height). Also observe employees to see if they are modifying tools, shaking their arms and hands, rolling their shoulder, or utilizing back belts or wrist braces. Encourage employees to report injuries early. This information is critical to assess, diagnose, and treat musculoskeletal injuries. I recommend taking a page out of BMW’s book and ask employees about their aches and pains. One of the first changes made by BMW was the installation of wood floors after employees reported knee pain.
Step 2: Develop Solutions to control hazards
Interventions include modifying existing equipment, making changes in work practices, and purchasing new tools or other devices to assist in the production process. For example, my hair stylist used an ergonomic spray bottle to mist my hair. The United States Department of Labor has a variety of resources available to implement solutions.
- Ergonomic seating
- Appropriate height countertops
- Adequate lighting
- Non-slip floor surfaces
- Accessible electrical and equipment controls
- Enhanced task lighting
- Job rotation
Step 3: Reduce slips, trips, and falls
Falls are the leading cause of loss among all workers. Preventing falls is critical to retaining workers.
- Well maintained, slip-resistant flooring
- Removal of tripping hazards
- Effective spill and routine cleaning methods
- Slip-resistant footwear requirement
- Proper stairway design (riser size, handrails, lighting etc.)
- Use of appropriate mats
- Sufficient interior and exterior lighting
- Reducing glare by keeping lights sources out of employee line of site
- Effective color contrast on warning sign
- Effective color contrast to identify height transitions (curbs, steps, stairways, and stair landings)
Modifying the workplace is an essential strategy to retaining workers of all ages. The goal is to reduce injuries caused by the physical strain created by repetitive activities. Achievement of this goal increases employee longevity, helping to reduce workforce shortages as demonstrated in Workforce Shortages: The BMW Solution. Additional benefits include reduced absenteeism, injuries, and errors.
Virtual barriers and modification in the workplace merit deeper discussion. We will cover that topic in our next article in the series. In the meantime, please visit Workforce Shortages: Beyond the Retirement Crisis to read other articles in the series.
- Cantley, L.F., Taiwo, O.A., Galusha D., Barbour, R., Slade, M.D., Tessier-Sherman, B., & Cullen, M.R. (2014). Effect of systematic ergonomic hazard identification and control implementation on musculoskeletal disorder and injury risk. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health, 57-65.
- Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace
- Workplace Ergonomics Reference Guide (2nd Ed.)
- Ergonomics: Identify the problem
- Easy Ergonomics: A guide to selecting non-powered hand tools
- Ergonomic Guidelines for Selecting Hand and Power Tools
- Office ergonomics: Your how-to guide
- Fox, R.R., Brogmus, G.E., & Maynard, W.S. (2015). Aging workers and ergonomics: A fresh perspective. American Society for Safety Engineers, 60(1), 33-41.