Everything you need to know about ergonomics

Everything you need to know about ergonomics

We chat with ergonomics experts Sarah-Ann Le Grange (from Ergomax Holdings) and Dale Kennedy (CEO of Ergomax Holdings) about the importance of ergonomics and how you can get certified.

Ergomax Holdings’ services include industrial, office, and mining ergonomics risk assessments, as well as fatigue risk management and injury investigations. It also offers ergonomics training via several courses, with the most popular being its three-day Ergonomics Risk Auditors Course.

How important is ergonomics in the workplace?

Very important, not just from the perspective of it being a regulatory requirement. In fact, we find it key. Simply put, ergonomics benefits the profitability and productivity of the broader organisation by taking care of the health and well-being of the individuals who work within these organisations. Ergonomics is about improving the well-being of employees by reducing their risk of injury. This in turn amounts to an increase in employee engagement and morale, a more productive and safer workforce, and a reduction of injuries and the costs associated with lost workdays.

How has the field of ergonomics changed over the years? 

Ergonomics was formally practised as early as the 17th Century by Bernardino Ramazzini, although it became more popularised during the 1900s, when “scientific management” or “Taylorism” was the predominant approach to work. This approach insisted on “fitting the employee to their work environment” and assuming there was one “best” way to perform work.

As time progressed, technology advancements and man-machine interfaces grew significantly. At the same time, the importance of worker safety and well-being and “fitting the environment to the employee” was realised. Research and practice revealed the complex interactions between interfaces and workspace design with human behaviour, cognition, capabilities, and limitations – and how these interactions impact both the well-being and performance of workers and organisations as a whole.

In today’s world, ergonomics expands almost all work environments and industries and its benefits are realised in every work system where it is applied.

What role does certification play in workplace ergonomics?

Certification ensures that there are proper standards for the local practice of ergonomics and that there is a standard of delivery. In addition to this, workplaces that make use of certified ergonomic professionals are more protected from a legal standpoint, given the combination of high-level quality education and practice.

Is this something that Ergomax Holdings can assist with? If so, how? 

Since the South African Ergonomic Regulations do not require ergonomics to be performed by a certified professional, per se, we offer a three-day Ergonomic Risk Auditors Course which can certify individuals to conduct basic risk assessments in the workplace. However, if individuals are interested in becoming registered certified professionals, they would need to apply to the Ergonomics Society of South Africa Professional Affairs Board.

Are there any trends within this sphere that excite you?

Hybrid work is definitely one. What we are finding is that people working from home have increased reports of discomfort in the upper limbs – such as the shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, and neck – from sitting on their couches or beds, for example, and using laptops with no external devices.

Office workers, on the other hand, are experiencing more headaches, eye strain, and lower back pain. It’s interesting to see how some companies have seen it as their responsibility to make employees’ work-from-home set-ups as functional as possible, while others simply ignore their employees altogether. When or if these employees return to the office, it will likely be with some ergonomic-related injury, which at the end of the day will cost the company. That’s why we recommend, at the very least, that companies do our online office risk assessments – just to cover their bases.

What challenges are businesses facing with regard to ergonomics? 

Stakeholder buy-in, especially at the higher levels of organisations. While some decision-makers understand the value and benefits of ergonomics, not all of them do, which leaves some recommendations for change or improvement met with resistance. Also, there is still a vast lack of knowledge about how to practically implement the regulatory requirements. This is followed, of course, by a marketing push to sell products by labelling them as “ergonomic” or “ergonomic compliant”.

How are you helping businesses to overcome these challenges? 

To solve this issue, we do three things. Firstly, we present to and communicate with all levels of management about the value of ergonomics and how it can impact the bottom line, if done correctly. Secondly, we offer recommendations that are simple and effective. Lastly, we offer continued support with their ergonomics programmes, so that we can assist organisations with integrating ergonomics into their existing structures. We have also been providing free educational workshops and we always include free feedback sessions to clients and walk them through implementing the findings. 

What does the future hold for ergonomics in the workplace? 

In South Africa, we think we will really start to see a shift from ergonomics as a matter of compliance to being a fundamental component of employee and organisational health and safety. The field can only grow, and this will be fast-tracked due to the rapid growth in technology. The importance of the human-machine interface will become more critical.

Any additional comments that you would like to add?

Introducing ergonomics into organisations can sometimes feel like a big undertaking and we are here to help. If companies or organisations need assistance or advice, they are more than welcome to reach out to us at admin@ergomax.co.za.

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SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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