A Methodology To Implement and Validate Ergonomic Improvements To Computer Workstations At L.L. Bean

R.R. Morency, E.F. Rooney, D.R. Foerster

L.L. Bean, Inc., Freeport, ME U.S.A.

With an increase in computers, and their usage, came an increase in the reporting of musculoskeletal discomfort and pain by employees. A multidisciplinary analysis pointed to poor postural conditions as the main cause. This finding was reinforced by a review of current research. In 1991 a multi-departmental team was developed to reduce the pain and discomfort in computer users. Processes to implement and evaluate ergonomic modifications were developed. Objective measurements were taken at the time of the ergonomic changes, with the users subjectively evaluating their comfort levels 1-2 weeks after the changes. The net result was an improvement in postural conditions in 542 workstations with the users reporting an average 84% improvement in their after modification comfort.

INTRODUCTION

L.L. Bean Inc., like many other progressive companies, is using rapidly evolving computer technology to increase effectiveness and productivity. There is an ongoing effort to computerize many historically paper driven processes to better serve our customers' needs. Internally, computers are used to communicate, using electronic mail instead of paper memos. Most personal computer also have multiple software programs, and mainframe applications. Electronic calendars have replaced appointment calendars and conference rooms must be scheduled via computer. Currently there are over 3,000 computer terminals or personal computers in use. In fact it is rare to see an office without a computer.

Along with the increase in computers and their use, there was an increase in employees reporting musculoskeletal discomfort and pain in the upper extremities, neck and back. A multidisciplinary analysis, performed by occupational health nurses and physicians, physical therapists and an ergonomic specialist pointed to poor postural conditions as the main cause. This was reinforced by a review of current research. The causes of poor postural conditions in computer work areas were identified as:

PLAN DEVELOPMENT/IMPLEMENTATION

L. L. Bean, Inc. is a Total Quality Management company that is committed to training employees to work as a team when problem solving. Employee Health and Safety, Facilities Management, and Purchasing formed a Quality Action Team (QAT) with the operating areas to quickly and effectively respond to the increase in reports of employees' pain and discomfort. An implementation plan was drawn up from recommendations by the QAT. Primary roles/responsibilities were:

Employee Health and Safety: Awareness training and education, computer workstation guidelines and specifications, ergonomic product development and evaluation, tracking and improvement validation.

Facilities: Planning and design of office layouts, inventory of appropriate furniture and equipment, and implementation of ergonomic improvements.

Purchasing: Purchase of appropriate ergonomic furniture and equipment.

Operating Areas: Active participation, support and feedback of ergonomic modifications by supervisors and employees.

The first ergonomic training sessions were for the two support departments, (Facilities & Purchasing). Facilities office planners' focus was designing offices with maximum flexibility, allowing usage by employees with broad ranges of physical requirements and tasks. Facilities office system installers were trained in ergonomic assessment skills, adjustment options, and usage of ergonomic equipment. The office systems installers' understanding of ergonomics was crucial in helping educate the employees in the proper use of ergonomic equipment. The Purchasing department's training stressed maximum flexibility, fit specifications and ease of adjustability in all newly purchased furniture.

With the help of historical data and current research, Employee Health & Safety also set workstation ergonomic guidelines. Finally, new ergonomic accessories recommended by the ergonomics team were introduced and tested by employees. Employees were brought into the process to obtain user feedback and greater eventual employee acceptance of the modifications chosen.

Once the education of the support departments was completed, Employee Health & Safety educated L. L. Bean employees through seminars and a company produced video on workstation ergonomics. Along with the ergonomic education was a review by the ergonomic specialist or occupational health specialist of each employee's workstation. An ergonomic survey sheet was devised by Employee Health & Safety and Facilities. The survey sheet is used by an ergonomic specialist or occupational health specialist while reviewing an employee's workstation fit and comfort. Expressing the benefits of a well fit station and the dangers of an uncomfortable station, the specialist and occupational health specialist usually recommend that the workstations be modified by Facilities to enhance their comfort. These improvements consist of workstation and VDT height adjustments or the installation of ergonomic accessories such as a footrest, copy holder, forearm support or a computer stand. Employees, and the Ergonomic Specialist, or the Occupational Health Specialist choose suitable ergonomic equipment from a computer workstation catalog to best fit their needs. Once the survey is filled out, it is sent to Facilities where it doubles as a work order.

With Facilities' major involvement in implementing ergonomic changes in the company, the department needed to increase its staff to accommodate Employee Health & Safety's requests. Therefore, an office planner and modifications installer were added to the Facilities department. The installers' task was to insure a 24 hour turnaround time on addressing a "Medical Rush" and to deliver and install the requested ergonomic accessories. A Medical Rush is a red flag noted on the survey by the ergonomic specialist or occupational health specialist when an employee needs to immediate attention due to pain or discomfort. In most cases immediate response and alterations to that employee's computer workstation will reduce pain and discomfort and reduce the risk of creating a lost time injury. The planner would undertake ergonomic problems that require a reconfiguration of the workstation to meet ergonomic guidelines.. Once the work order has been completed, Employee Health & Safety tracks the employee's comfort while Facilities creates a database for each individual so that the employee's ergonomic modifications follow should they move to a different department or office.

The close working relationship between Employee Health and Safety, Facilities, Purchasing, and operating areas has enabled Facilities to stock ergonomic accessories for quick and efficient delivery and installation. The Purchasing department is now conscious of ergonomics when buying office equipment and in fact requests input from the other two departments when making a purchasing decision. Facilities stocks both off the shelf items and other accessories such as the forearm supports and computer stands that were developed by the ergonomic specialist. These items are fabricated in L.L. Bean's own maintenance department.

Total Quality at L. L. Bean means "doing things right the first time". Office ergonomics is no exception. Steps are now taken to insure that purchasing, planning and installation of offices have ergonomic flexibility built in initially. The present office standards that Facilities uses have been updated to reflect ergonomics technology and flexibility. Overhead shelves and under-the-work surface files have been moved or replaced to allow for maximum adjustability of the work surface and VDT height. The office planners and the ergonomic specialist review future office configurations to assure that the plan meets computer workstation guidelines. Facilities and Purchasing buy and use only top quality systems furniture that has maximum flexibility engineered into the system.

Through closely coordinated teamwork among Employee Health and Safety, Facilities Management, Purchasing and operating areas, L. L. Bean is able to give it's employees a safe and comfortable workstation that increases comfort, productivity and efficiency.

METHODOLOGY AND RESULTS

Ergonomic analyses were conducted on 548 computer workstations. The ergonomic specialist or occupational health specialist and user agreed that there was room for improvement in 542 cases. Each employee's workstation was adjusted to meet established guidelines developed from current research (Grandjean, 1988; Apple Computer, 1991; International Business Machines Corporation, 1991; Human Factors Society, 1988; Putz-Anderson, 1988).

Various ergonomic modifications were added to 98.9% of the workstations.

Ergonomic modifications to 542 computer workstations.

Employees were asked to rate their comfort, before and 1-2 weeks after modification on a 1 to 5 scale. An answer of 1 was equal to no comfort, 5 was equal to very comfortable.

The average of the responses prior to modification was 2.22 on a scale of 5. After the modifications the average response increased to 4.08, an 83.8% improvement!

This methodology gives us a valuable practical process to plan and implement ergonomic changes. This method also validates we are making improvements in recognized ergonomic risk factors based on current research, while the comfort of employees is also increasing. We feel our success is due to the multi-disciplinary involvement of the many departments within L. L. Bean, including the employees. Corlett (1992) and others highlight the importance of involving employees in the process and evaluation of ergonomic changes. Combining the subjective evaluations of employees with our own objective measurements, we are able to validate that our measured ergonomic improvements result in positive changes from the employees' perspectives.

REFERENCES

Apple Computer, Inc., 1991 Creating A Healthy Work Environment, 030-1922A LOI36LL/A, Capertino, CA.

Corlett, N., 1992, . In: Advances in Industrial Ergonomics and Safety IV, Denver, edited by S.Kumar, (Hampshire: Taylor and Francis), pp. xxv-xxxii.

Grandjean, E., 1988, Fitting the Task to the Man, A Textbook of Occupational Ergonomics, Taylor and Francis, New York.

Human Factors Society, Inc., 1986, American National Standard for Human Factors Engineering of Visual Display Terminal Workstations, ANSI/HFS 100-1988, Santa Monica, California.

International Business Machine Corporation, Ergonomics Handbook, SU04-0224-02, Purchase, New York.

International Business Machines Corporation 1991, Ergonomics Posture Observer, Boulder, Colorado.

Putz-Anderson, V., 1988, Cumulative Trauma Disorders; A Manual for Musculoskeletal Diseases of the Upper Limbs, Taylor and Francis, New York.

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