Health & Safety Outlook 2011: The ‘soft’ side of OHS - ErgonomicsWritten by Mari-Len De Guzman 13 December 2010
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Safety professionals can also be an active resource to contribute to the company’s efforts on corporate social responsibility. This, again, speaks to the importance of expanding one’s skills and knowledge beyond the technical aspects of health, safety and environment, Pozniak says.
Organizations will be looking to some expertise in the area, and corporate social responsibility can become part of the safety professional’s portfolio.
“Sometimes the corporate social responsibility, just like safety and security and environment and everything else, goes to the safety guy . . . which is a great expansion of our professional portfolios.”
More importantly, however, safety professionals have to become team players to know “a little bit about everything else that the business does, so that we can almost become salesmen,” says Pozniak. This would enable the safety professional to find ways to fit the safety agenda into the bigger corporate direction, she adds.
One area of OHS that has gained much attention over the last few years is in ergonomics. Musculoskeletal disorders have been one of the most common types of injuries in the workplace across Canada, and government bodies and companies are taking notice, says Don Patten, president of the Association of Canadian Ergonomists and an ergonomics specialist with the Workplace Safety and Prevention Services.
The high cost of MSD-related compensation claims and the negative impact on overall productivity are pushing governments and businesses to get ergonomic professionals more involved in prevention planning.
“In the past, the (ergonomics) profession as a whole has really just been reacting to a lot of these issues. There’s been so many injuries occurring and so many problems that companies are having that a lot of ergonomists are really just trying to do assessments to get these injuries under control,” Patten says.
In recent years, however, government has started to recognize the ergonomist’s expertise. “They are certainly getting ergonomists in the different provinces involved in some of the decision making around dealing with these issues.”
It’s a trend that Patten believes will continue to 2011 and beyond, and will allow the ergonomics professionals to enhance their skills to more than the physical aspect of the field. Some of these new knowledge include organizational ergonomics, which looks at policies and processes and how things are organized, and cognitive ergonomics, which deal with mental processes like perception, memory and reasoning that all affect people’s decision-making at work.
“A lot of these types of things outside of the physical ergonomics we find is getting more important everyday, because I think people are realizing that it’s not just physically how we lift the box but how we make decisions and how things are designed that actually even subconsciously force us to make those decisions for example,” Patten says.
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