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Ergonomics professionals seek shift to risk-based data

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The success of ergonomics programs is measured by lagging indicators such as incident rates, but ergonomics professionals would like to see an evolution toward the use of leading indicators, according to a study by Aon Risk Solutions.

The most common metric used to measure a firm's ergonomics program is the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's total incident rate, with about 59.6% of respondents using that lagging indicator, according to Aon's 2015 Safety Management Function: Current State of Ergonomics Programs report, released to Business Insurance on Friday. This was followed by OSHA's days away, restricted or transferred rates and near miss/hit reports, tied at 45.7% and workers comp claim frequency at 42.6%.

However, professionals in charge of their company's ergonomics programs would like to use leading indicators such as ergonomic task analysis scores and discomfort/symptom reports, tied at 45.7%, according to the survey. Near miss/hit reports at 41.3% and behavioral observation points at 40.2% were also seen as valuable measures of ergonomic-related efforts.

Management will often question the need to spend time and resources on these leading indicators, but ergonomics professionals continually advocate they be used for their risk mitigation and prevention value, said Rachel Michael, senior consultant, certified professional ergonomist, Aon Global Risk Consulting in Salt Lake City.

“They want risk-based metrics and not loss-based metrics,” she said. “We'll never get away from having the loss-based metrics, but there's a disconnect between what the company or the organization finds valuable and what those actually managing the program and trying to allocate the resources find valuable.”

These leading indicators are readily available but require substantial technical training, and many organizations are not sophisticated enough to successfully create and fund an ergonomics program incorporating these metrics, Ms. Michael said.

The primary driver of companies' ergonomic-related efforts is employee health and safety at 69.9%, according to the survey. Regulatory compliance is not a top driver of ergonomics-related efforts — with 3.5% of respondents citing it as the primary motivation — as only California has a standard, but federal OSHA will cite employers under the general duty clause for ergonomics-related hazards, she said.

The largest group of survey respondents were employed by companies with fewer than 250 employees at 20.4%, followed by those working at firms with more than 25,000 employees at 19.5% and those at companies with 251 to 500 employees at 15.9%.

The top industry represented in the survey was durable goods manufacturing at 27.4%, followed by business and professional services at 7.1% and education, health care and transportation tied at 6.2%.

The survey was open from March 30, 2015, to June 22, 2015.