Participatory ergonomics

In participatory ergonomics programs, workers, supervisors and other workplace parties jointly identify and address work-related ergonomics hazards that can lead to injuries and health problems.

Why study participatory ergonomics?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system and are a major cause of work-related injury in Canada, accounting for approximately 40 per cent of workers’ compensation claims. Examples of MSDs include low-back pain, shoulder and neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.

Participatory ergonomics (PE) programs encourage the workplace parties to help identify and remove the hazards or risk factors in their workplace that can cause or aggravate MSDs, such as working in awkward positions, doing repetitive work and having to apply force. By jointly solving ergonomics issues, PE programs aim to decrease the losses associated with MSD-related absences and claims, and increase productivity by improving work methods and product quality. 

How to implement effective PE programs

The Institute for Work & Health (IWH) has been involved in conducting research and creating guides on implementing effective workplace participatory ergonomics programs.

In 2003, the University of Waterloo and IWH jointly released a detailed, evidence-based guide on how to implement PE programs. The 36-page guide is designed to help facilitators successfully implement PE programs as part of an organization's health and safety program.

The Institute then went on to research what features and processes, in particular, will make PE programs effective in reducing MSDs and related costs. It conducted a systematic review that found six key steps that help contribute to the success of a PE program. These steps formed the basis of a lay-friendly workplace guide.

in 2013, an IWH plenary featured the research of an adjunct scientist on the elements of PE programs and how the contrast with key themes of occupational health and safety (OHS) management systems. The findings suggest that the successful implementation of PE programs depends upon better integration with OHS management systems.

Are PE programs effective?

IWH has conducted extensive research to determine if PE programs are effective.

A systematic review looked at the available literature to determine the effectiveness of workplace-based PE programs in improving workers' health. The researchers found enough evidence to conclude that PE interventions have a positive effect on worker health and to recommend their use in the workplace as a way to improve health outcomes for workers.

IWH has also carried out case study research, performing evaluations of PE programs to determine their effectiveness at the workplace level. The studies show mixed results regarding the effect of these programs on worker health, although a number of the case studies did find that workplaces benefit economically from implementing PE programs.