Alive and Kicking

Ergonomics is still in demand for preventive-minded professionals.


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 Raleigh, N.C.

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 case."

This editor's note appeared in the March 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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