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.
- How-to manual (2003): Participatory Ergonomics Blueprint
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.
- Systematic review full report (2008): Process and implementation of participatory ergonomics interventions
- Systematic review summary—Sharing Best Evidence (2008): Factors for success in participatory ergonomics
- PE guide (2009): Reducing MSD Hazards in the Workplace: A Guide to Successful Participatory Ergonomics Programs
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.
- Plenary (2013): Contrasting participatory ergonomics programs with requirements for occupational health and safety management programs
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.
- Systematic review summary (2005): Effectiveness of participatory ergonomics interventions
- Systematic review full report (2005): Effectiveness of participatory ergonomics interventions
- Research Highlight (2006): Worker participation in ergonomic programs has benefits
- At Work article (2007): Team evaluates participatory ergonomics program
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.
- Research Highlight (2009): Case studies of participatory ergonomics programs
- Research Highlight (2009): Manufacturer saves money with participatory ergonomics program
- Plenary (2012): Reflections on a program of participatory ergonomics interventions: A multiple case study
- At Work article (2013): Manufacturer learns participatory ergonomics worth the investment
- Media release (2013): Ontario manufacturer saves quarter-million dollars due to participatory ergonomics program
- Media release (2014): RSI Awareness Day: Research suggests using participatory ergonomics