Implementing a participatory ergonomics
Traditional Ergonomic Practice
PE definition/background
Who is involved in PE programs
PE in small workplaces
Success Factors for Organizational
• Barriers to the PE process
• PE Blueprint
Traditional ergonomic practices
• Traditional Intervention Approaches
– Fit a task/workspace to a worker
– Recognition of risk (WRMSD’S)
– Employ guidelines, laboratory findings,
statistical modeling
– Notion of “accidents” has changed
– (Typically) not reiterative and often does
not consider how changes create
problems upstream/downstream
• Effective in creating a problem solving
Failure of traditional approach:
–NOT poor science
–Ergonomic information
(KNOWLEDGE) is not being
properly adapted and applied
Carrivick, Lee, Yau, & Stevenson (2005)
How do we adapt & apply this
ergonomics knowledge?
• Participatory ergonomics represents
an intervention style to work within a
systemic approach to ergonomics
– (Antle, 2008)
Background on PE
Rivilis et al., (2006):
• PE interventions/programmes are
used to reduce work related
musculoskeletal disorders in
• Grew out of quality circle experiences
in Japan & participatory workplace
design processes in Northern Europe
and North America in the 1980’s
Background on PE
• Supported by unions, health and
safety sectoral agencies, and health
and safety associations
– (Rivilis et al., 2006)
• PE programs can be implemented as
part of an organizations constant
improvement process and should be
budgeted and evaluated
PE Programs
• Improved ergonomics can lead to
increased productivity
• Reported outcomes from participatory
ergonomics interventions include:
– decreased injury incidence and lower
compensation costs (Laing et al., 2005)
PE Definitions
The involvement of people in planning
and controlling a significant amount of
their work activities, with sufficient
knowledge and power to influence
both processes and outcomes in order
to achieve desirable goals.
Wilson & Haines (1997)
PE Definitions
• Participatory Ergonomics is the
adaptation of the environment to the
human (ergonomics) together with the
proper persons in question
– Vink (2005)
• Practical ergonomics is necessary
with actors in problem solving
– Kuorinka (1997)
Participatory Ergonomics
Antle (2008)
PE Definitions
• There is no common consensus on a
definition of PE (Antle, 2008)
• But in all PE descriptions there is one
common component- the involvement
of stakeholders in the process.
– Failure to involve these individuals may
lead to their negative interpretation of the
need for an intervention
Who is involved in PE programs?
Participatory Ergonomics
• PE requires key company stakeholders
to be involved in the intervention – at all
stages of the process
– They account for the traditional ergonomic
measures, as well as the organizational and
employee/management factors
– Participation can either be direct or
• Antle (2008)
Participatory Ergonomics
• In implementing effective ergonomics, we
cannot focus on technology alone. We must
understand the context in using
comprehensive management concepts.
Vink et al. (2008)
• Capturing knowledge must account for
social and organizational factors
Kuorinka (1997); Laitinen et al. (1998)
Participatory Ergonomics
• An effective PE program encourages
workers to identify the hazards or risk
factors in their workplace
– Risk can be shaped by different
workplace components (multidimensional in nature)
• Those related to the individual job
• Those related to worksite environment
• Those related to organizational issues
– Cann et al. 2006
• In a 2008 study, Vink et al.
theoretically proposed the different
levels of involvement of participants in
each step of a PE process.
Participatory Ergonomics:
Who is involved?
Vink et al. (2008)
• Top Management
• Middle Management
• Employee
• Ergonomist
• Designer
• Internal Staff
Vink et al. 2008
Top Management: Step 1
Middle Management: Steps 1, 4
Employee: Steps 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9
Ergonomist: Steps 2, 3, 5
Designer: Steps 3, 5, 7
Participatory Ergonomics
Vink et al. (2008) results:
• Middle management also involved in
• Employees also involved in
• Ergonomists role limited in later
stages such as adjusting and
Cann et al. (2006):
Lay versus expert understandings of workplace
risk in the food service industry: A
multi-dimensional model with implications for
participatory ergonomics
How do perceptions differ?
• Cann et al. (2006)
– Explored the understandings of risk as
felt by food service workers and how
these compare with an “expert” in risk
• They note that the risk literature
usually focuses on the evaluation of
trained experts
Cann et al. (2006) findings:
• Ergonomists may be insufficient for
successful workplace change and
• Workers are knowledgeable and their
knowledge is a result of experience
• Workers identified the same risks as
the ergonomist just in more detail
How can we train those involved in PE
• Can take several forms
• Be careful with media selection
– Lectures vs. Video/computer based
– Hands on learning
• Employees should feel as though they
are active part of the program
Success Factors for Organizational
Success Factors for
Organizational Change
• The employment of long-term strategies
for the company and the ability to make
the necessary resources available
• Adequate participation of individuals and
groups affected by the changes
• Consideration of impact of company’s or
plant’s culture
– Zink et al. (2008)
Success Factors for
Organizational Change
• Coherence between different change
• Emphasis on structures and behaviours
considering the interdependencies
between them
• Change initiatives seen as evolutionary
process but not as time-limited
– Zink et al. (2008)
PE factors for success
Literature identifies the several PE requirements
Koningsveld, Dul, Van Rhijn, & Vink, 2005; de Looze, Urlings, Vink, Van
Rhijn, & Miedema, 2001; Haines,Wilson, Vink, & Koningsveld, 2002;
Saleem, Kleiner, & Nussbaum, 2003
Existence or absence of these factors determine
the success of the intervention and long-term
improvement of ergonomics/OHS capacity at the
Common Framework Success Factors
Identifying the involvement of key personnel;
developing a steering committee
Having a PE trained ergonomic facilitator
Having participation of employees from all levels of
the organization in as direct a manner as possible
Having strong management commitment
Focusing on employees satisfaction, production
factors and other such outcomes, not just health
Using a step-wise strategy for the project
Ensure proper tools and equipment are available
PE in small workplaces-how can we
successfully implement changes?
Participatory Ergonomics in Small
• Kogi (2008) reviewed the use of
trainers in helping local people in
small work environments and the
improvements they can help make in
different work scenarios
Kogi (2008)
Kogi (2008)
• Programs dealing with work- related
risks were organized according to the
target groups
– Risks addressed were
Needle stick injuries
Mental stress situations
Irregular hours/overwork situations
• WISE training programs applied to
small construction sites and home
– Trainers played crucial role in facilitating
learning of local good practice, low cost
ideas, and follow up activities
– Similar roles played in WIND programs
Kogi (2008)
• Trainers in these programs contributed to
the adjustment of training materials to local
conditions through the observation of local
good practices and photographic examples
Kogi (2008)
• Second stage of facilitation was
concerned with the planning of
immediate improvements
– Planning done by participating
managers, workers or farmers
*CRUCIAL in each program*
Kogi (2008)
Kogi (2008)
Effects of Participatory steps:
• Practical improvements had been
achieved in work and life conditions
– Improvements in
• Reduced injury risks
• Work environment
– Lighting, ventilation machine guarding, and
chemicals handling
• Reduced physical and muscular loads
Kogi (2008)
Concluding remarks:
• A trainer’s facilitative role is more
effective when these support functions
are followed:
1) Building local initiative for action
2) Focus on practical options
3) Conformation of benefits of the
improvements achieved through
Barriers to the PE process
Key Barriers to PE Process
Three issues in PE process noted by
Institute for Work and Health (2009):
1) Having support for PE program from
the organization
2) Having resource commitment from the
3) Having open communication about the
PE program
Barriers to PE Process
• Cann et al. (2006)
– A key barrier to shared knowledge
is not due to expertise, but the
inability or unwillingness to
incorporate different types of
knowledge and expertise to
accomplish a common goal
What happens when PE interventions
are not considered successful?
When PE Interventions Are
Not Successful
• Laing et al. (2007) investigated the
purpose of a PE programme in
reducing WMSD
– Wanted to assess whether an
intervention influenced pain severity
based on aspects of the change process
– Used a sister plant in the corporation as
a referent group
Laing et al. (2007)
– There was an increase reported in
enhanced communication regarding
ergonomic issues
– However, when the final assessment
took place there was no real change in
worker perception or pain severity.....
• What went wrong?
Laing et al. (2007)
• Possible Explanations:
– Worker input
– Limited intervention intensity
– Context/Co-intervention differences
between the two plants
– Lack of sensitivity/specificity in
psychosocial measures used
Laing et al. (2007)
• Worker input
– Improved communication dynamics may
be a requirement for changes to occur in
worker perception of workplace decision
latitude and influence
• May not be sufficient enough- Why?
– Workers may perceive that their input is
• This may lead to decrease in decision
Laing et al. (2007)
• Limited intervention intensity
– Intervention period may have been too
short (10 months)
– Lack of commitment by ECT team
• Logo/participation in 1 minute survey
– Use of representative participation
• Employees may not have felt involved in
process of change
Laing et al. (2007)
• Context/Co-intervention differences
between the two plants
– A history of mistrust and nonparticipatory practices between labour
and management existed at the
intervention plant
• New management 4 months into intervention
Laing et al. (2007)
• Lack of sensitivity/specificity in
psychosocial measures used
– Psychosocial exposures measures may
not have been sensitive enough for the
specific changes involved with the
particular intervention
• More thoughts need to be given to tool
development used to measure outcomes
affected by work
PE Blueprint
PE Blueprint
• A facilitators guide for implementing a
successful PE program as part of an
organizations health and safety program
• Establishes the groundwork to gain
management support, set up a PE change
team and initiate basic training in
PE Blueprint
• Has an Ergonomic Process and a
Health and Safety Process
• Health and Safety Process
– Is the organizational structure that
supports the ergonomic process
Wells, Frazer,
Norman, Laing, 2001
PE Blueprint
Ergonomic Process (2 Cycles)
• Reactive Cycle:
– Facilitator identifies risk, evaluates
priorities, proposes solutions, implements
and evaluates a prototype in order to
adopt solutions
• Proactive Cycle
– Uses feedback from previous changes to
ensure that ergonomic principles are
used in purchasing and design of new
PE Blueprint
Ergonomic Process
• These processes are complementary
and required
• Both of these processes use a
common solution building, evaluation,
and adoption approach
PE Blueprint: Startup
Reactive Process
Reactive Process
Phase 1:
• Opportunities for improvement
– Identify jobs, tasks or processes where
workers experience greater rates of MSD
or other indicators of poor ergonomic
– Then integrate this data to determine
which jobs may need further ergonomic
investigation and assessment
Reactive Process
Phase 2
• Assess Ergonomic risk factors and
prioritize jobs for improvement
– Prioritize ergonomic interventions for the
jobs identified in previous step
Reactive Process
Phase 3
• Build Solutions
– Develop a prototype/trial solution to
address the risks identified in the
previous step
Reactive Process
Phase 4
• Prototype Implementation
– Implement solutions on a small scale or
proactively as a computer simulation
where possible
• This can judge its ergonomic quality and
interactions with other equipment and
Reactive Process
Phase 5
• Prototype evaluation
– Estimate the ergonomic quality of the
prototype solution
Reactive Process
Phase 6
• Implement Solution
– Allow for the smooth introduction of the
solution after prototype trials
– Continue monitoring the effect of the
changes and still look for opportunities
for improvement
Proactive Approach
Proactive Approach
• Proactive Approach
– Develops guidelines in all relevant
• This aids to incorporate ergonomic
information into decision making
– Uses ergonomic tools
• This allows prediction of the effects of design
decision on human health and performance
Proactive Approach
• Proactive Approach
– Commits resources/time
• needed to incorporate ergonomic information
into decision making
– Develops future programs
• Builds in a continuous improvement cycle
based on improvement of existing design
problems and feedback