Alive and Kicking
Ergonomics is still in demand for preventive-minded professionals.
- By Jerry Laws
- Mar 01, 2005
ERGONOMICS isn't dead. Reports of its death at the hands of Congress and the
president four years ago were exaggerated--by me and many other observers. My
source for renewed optimism about its present and future is Shannon Powell, an
Accredited Office Ergonomics Evaluator and president of Active Ergonomics in
Powell has tilled this ground only since 1998 but has figured out the right
way to market her company's services, in my opinion. "It seemed like everyone
was interested in doing something for the person that was hurt. Insurance
companies were all over it, and the employers were all over it. But no one was
really talking about, why not do something ahead of time and preventatively?"
Powell told me. "What I started doing was, every time I would sell equipment, I
would offer education."
A one-hour class for employees and an on-site assessment of each worker's
setup are part of the company's approach. It's a partnership: The employers who
pay Active Ergonomics to do this tell their workers, If you're feeling any
discomfort, here's a resource who can help you cure it.Active Ergonomics offers to help
figure out how to retrofit their existing workspaces, and its assessments yield
a bounty of information about health conditions the employees have (undiagnosed
scoliosis? obesity?) and how they are working.
Her challenge is identifying champions inside the companies, even those
without much money to spend. "I say to them, 'Why not be preventive? You could
be being preventive right now, buying the things you're buying and doing the
things you're doing. And you're not doing anything because you're getting this
equipment from a furniture source. You could be saving hundreds of thousands of
dollars a year by not allowing your employees just to go out and get what they
think they need to handle a problem.' "
I regarded the OSHA ergonomics standard's demise as dismal news for
ergonomists and ergonomic products, but Powell set me straight. "I never once
worried when the ergonomic standard didn't go through. To be honest with you, I
had a sigh of relief," she said. "I pick out the things that I liked best about
the standard . . . Making smart purchases, understanding the behavior of the
employee, and being able to work together as a team within the organization.
These three things are what I go in and cheerlead for.
"Every time we see somebody, it's one more person who's not going to have an
injury," Powell added. "We think, we hope, it's the best investment. It's all
documented. The employer's not going to have to deal with a workman's comp
This editor's note appeared in the March 2005 issue of Occupational Health
This article originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.