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Does training help workers identify ergonomic risks?

Many companies provide ergonomics training to employees to help them identify risk factors for injuries. Until recently, there had only been one study on the effectiveness of this type of safety training.

And the participants in that study were college students without industrial experience.

Last month, researchers from the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health published a new study that showed training improved workers’ ability to identify the potential for musculoskeletal injuries.

The study took place at a facility in Iowa that manufactures vinyl windows. The team that received training had nine members: three safety personnel, the production manager, the human resources manager, a representative from maintenance and three production employees.

The workers received initial training and then support meetings for one year. The initial training included instruction about:

  • musculoskeletal anatomy and physical risk factors
  • formal exposure assessments
  • hands-on, team-based assessments of tasks performed at the facility
  • examples of the development, implementation and evaluation of ergonomic controls, and
  • cost-benefit analysis.

The training took two half workdays. The support meetings were two hours once a month for one year.

Participants and the research team each ranked risks for 30 production tasks before and after the training and support meetings.

Result: Agreement between the research team and the workers on identification of ergonomic risk factors increased after the training and a year of follow-up meetings. The largest improvement was found for risks affecting the neck and shoulders. The most agreement between the two groups was for potential musculoskeletal injuries to the lower back.

The researchers note that this was an initial assessment after one year. The effectiveness and impact of the ergonomics training over a longer period of time wasn’t evaluated. Continued meetings may be necessary to sustain the improvement in ergonomic risk identification.

So, if you’ve ever had doubts about the effectiveness of ergonomics training provided to your company’s employees, you now have more scientific proof that it helps them, provided there are regular, continuing discussions on the topic.

The study was published in a December 2013 supplement to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Has ergonomics training at your company helped reduce certain types of injuries? Let us know in the comments.

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