How Often to Offer Ergonomic Training in the Workplace: FAQ
In 1996, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a strategy to improve workplace ergonomics — the practice of matching work to workers. The program’s goal was to reduce cases of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, injuries to the muscles and related tissues typically caused by repetitive, forceful, and awkward movements often associated with workplace tasks like material handling.
Part of OSHA’s strategy was to issue grants in support of ergonomics training programs in workplaces across the U.S. By 2000, OSHA had given out $3 million for 25 ergonomics grants. One of these went to Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, where it led to an informative case study in ergonomics training.
Musculoskeletal disorders are overrepresented in healthcare, where staff frequently reposition patients, a task that requires heavy lifting and awkward postures. In fact, in 2018, the healthcare and social assistance field had more cases of musculoskeletal disorders requiring days away from work than any other industry. So Mercy Hospital’s grant-funded program was a good place to test the efficacy of ergonomics training programs.
Mercy Hospital trained more than 3,000 workers in safer, more ergonomic lifting procedures, with the goal of reducing lost-work days by 15 percent. The trainers surpassed the goal, and of the staff members who were trained, not a single one ended up taking sick days for back pain.
That’s just one case, but it represents a broader trend: When you train workers in ergonomics, rates of musculoskeletal injuries decline. OSHA’s efforts to improve ergonomics led to a 5-year decline in musculoskeletal disorders requiring time off work. In short, ergonomics training works — but a single training session isn’t enough.
Here are answers to frequently asked questions about ergonomic training programs, starting with one of the most common: How often should employers offer this training?
How often should you offer ergonomics training in the workplace?
In 2000, OSHA published a set of ergonomics standards that discussed training in detail — but they were repealed the following year through the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a 1996 mechanism that allows Congress to overturn the actions of federal agencies. The OSHA ergonomics standard never went into effect. Because of the way the CRA works, it never will. Rules repealed by the CRA “may not be reissued in substantially the same form.”
So there’s no federal rule that dictates the frequency of ergonomic training. Still, we can get some guidance from the text of the now-defunct OSHA ergonomics standard — even if OSHA’s recommendations are hazy at best.
“The length and frequency of the training is determined by the needs of the workplace,” the repealed OSHA ergonomic standard says. “Periodic training is necessary to address new developments in the workplace and to reinforce and retain the knowledge already acquired in previous training, but to make this element as flexible as possible, OSHA is not specifying the frequency with which training must be provided.”
So even if OSHA had passed a rule, that rule would leave it up to employers to determine how often to offer ergonomic training in the workplace. However, OSHA did consider a basic framework for ergonomics training frequency, even if it never made it into the federal standards.
“You must provide training initially, periodically, and at least every three years at no cost to employees,” the abandoned OSHA rule states.
Note that even OSHA’s rejected final rule abandoned the proposal that training be conducted at least every three years — so this guideline is simply a potential starting point for planning an ergonomics training program, not as a prescriptive rule. And, in fact, the best way to establish training frequency is to match it to the particular needs of your workplace. This may differ from one facility to the next.
In general, employers should offer ergonomic training to all new employees engaged in jobs that carry risks. They should retrain employees when work requirements change, as with the introduction of new equipment or procedures. Periodic retraining — whether that’s every three years, annually, or even on a quarterly basis — will refresh employee knowledge and boost awareness for a more effective ergonomics program overall.
There’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation for how often to offer ergonomics training; each employer must make that decision based on their unique circumstances.
What should be included in ergonomics training programs?
According to OSHA, effective ergonomics training includes at least seven learning goals, including:
- The basics of ergonomic principles, including neutral postures, grip types and force requirements, and the relationship between repetitive lifting and fatigue failure.
- How to select and use ergonomic tools and material handling equipment.
- Proper lifting techniques and other best practices for safely completing work.
- Risk factors and how to recognize them when they appear in workplace tasks.
- Early symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders.
- Why responding to these early symptoms is essential for preventing more serious injuries.
- How to report injuries according to OSHA injury recording standards.
If injury rates go down following training, that’s a good indication that the program is successful. If they don’t, it’s time to revisit the training materials to find out what’s missing. Luckily, many resources are available to help create a successful ergonomics training program.
What are some good resources for training employees on ergonomics?
Employers don’t have to design an ergonomics training program from scratch. In fact, you shouldn’t; experts in the field offer plenty of resources for managers and employees alike. Here are some learning opportunities to investigate as you plan your ergonomics training program:
- OSHA Training Tools and Resources. Find online training resources related to ergonomics at the OSHA training library. Resources include videos, web-based e-learning modules, and publications that share a wealth of ergonomic knowledge. To develop an in-house ergonomics training program, start with the OSHA Resource for Development and Delivery of Training to Workers — and to develop course material, browse OSHA’s selection of industry-specific ergonomics guides.
- OSHA Training Institute (OTI) Education Centers. OSHA operates a network of OTI Education Centers, with at least one in every coverage region; some of these institutions may offer online courses. In course OSHA #2255 - Principles of Ergonomics, students learn to conduct ergonomic evaluations of the workplace and improve on existing ergonomics programs.
- Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) Learning Center. A leading association of ergonomics professionals, HFES offers a large collection of e-learning courses and webinars. HFES members can access many of these materials for free, while non-members typically pay per course. Browse the HFES course catalog here.
- The HFES Consultant Directory. Need help setting up an ergonomics training program? Start your search for an ergonomics consultant with the HFES directory of professionals, which lists areas of expertise, educational backgrounds, and consulting experience for HFES-member ergonomics consultants throughout the U.S.
- The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Musculoskeletal Disorders Toolkit. The office of the UK’s HSE provides a suite of free digital tools for assessing workplace tasks — and the associated ergonomic risks. These tools include a Musculoskeletal Disorder Online Assessment Tool, a set of Manual Handling Assessment Charts, an Assessment of Repetitive Tasks tool, and more.
What types of material handling equipment should you include in ergonomic training programs?
Ergonomics training typically includes instruction on the material handling equipment that prevents heavy lifts, awkward postures, and risky movements during work. That equipment will depend on the task at hand, but may include any or all of the following:
- Lifting equipment, such as Gantry Cranes and Jib Booms.
- Work-positioning equipment, such as Lift Tables, Tilt Tables, and Adjustable Packing Desks.
- Specialized material carts, such as Order Picking Carts, Utility Carts, and Cylinder Transporters.
- Container dumping equipment, such as Hydraulic Bin Dumpers.
- Specialized access tools, such as Trench Lid Lifters.
Material handling equipment is a key intervention for reducing ergonomic risk factors, but it only works if employees know how to use it properly. No matter how often you offer ergonomic training in your workplace, be sure to include instruction on the use of material handling equipment to get the most benefits — and create a safer workplace overall.
For help choosing the ergonomic material handling equipment that’s ideal for your organization, contact the BHS sales team at 1.800.BHS.9500 today.