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Motivation, customization key to ergonomic success

Posted On: Sep. 6, 2017 2:31 PM CST

Motivation, customization key to ergonomic success

DANA POINT, California — Greyhound Lines Inc. credits tailored ergonomic training for its employees as the key to reducing claims by more than half within a decade, the company’s director of safety and security, Al Smith, told workers compensation professionals at the California Workers Comp and Risk Conference in Dana Point, California, on Wednesday. 

Before banishing the company’s one-size-fits-all approach in 2010, Greyhound saw 745 mostly musculoskeletal injuries; in 2016 the company reported 295 such injuries, Mr. Smith said. “Seventy percent of injuries were related to material handling … the primary culprits were pushing, pulling, twisting, lifting,” he said. 

“Our program (in 2010) was a basic lifting program, one size fits all, no matter what the employee did,” Mr. Smith said. Today Greyhound safety experts study a person’s job before offering a customizable solution for better ergonomics, he said. 

The outcome was more compliance with training exercises and know-how, he said. 

Ergonomics expert Dennis Downing, CEO of Future Industrial Technologies, Inc., said success in any program will be up to employees; whether they are motivated to feel better in their everyday lives.

“Eighty percent of adults will have back pain,” Mr. Downing said, adding that the problem is most adults do not understand the biomechanics — the how and why the body can and cannot, or should not, move a certain way. 

Therefore, programs are successful if they can show employees what they are doing wrong in their specific job function and how to fix the issue, he said. The lasting effect is that they take the training home with them, he added. 

“Employees will listen and buy in if it’s effective for them,” said Mr. Downing, who helps companies implement better ergonomics training programs aimed at not simply reducing costs for employers but helping employees feel better. 

“If you don’t have realizations in your training you will have no change in behavior,” said Mr. Downing, who helped create Greyhound’s program.

Mr. Smith said this motivation is what made Greyhound ultimately successful. “When you feel better by doing it it’s a great motivation to do it the right way,” added Mr. Smith. “It’s easy to get them to continue it.”

Mr. Downing said the common practice of video-based training doesn’t work. He used the example of teaching a child how to swim: “Do you put them in a suit and press play on a video and tomorrow throw them in the pool?” 

Another ineffective practice? Bribery, he said. “We had a hard time figuring out why companies were bribing employees with food,” he said of the common practice of providing ergonomics training — how to better lift, push, pull, and stretch — over a free lunch. 

A better approach is to show workers how better ergonomics can help them, Mr. Downing added. “What we need to do is (ask ourselves), what would be a good purpose? You want to help people. They are suffering. The purpose is to not just help someone at work but 24-7. It’s a gateway for them to accept your information.”