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Protecting Our Nation's Workers: Ergonomics Outside the Office

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While yoga studios, massage therapists, and ergonomic work stations might help our country's army of desk-chained workers, the men and women pouring their sweat and tears into the manufacturing and construction industries don't often have the opportunity to take advantage of these amenities. It's important that we are taking into account their health and safety, for the worker's benefit and for the overall economy's.

Ergonomics is a word we hear thrown around in many different industries, but whether we know what it really means is a whole different question. Some may think of sitting on medicine balls at the office or using a strangely curved keyboard, but ergonomics is much broader than that. Ergonomics is the science of "fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population". Effective and successful "fits" assure high productivity, avoidance of illness and injury risks, and increased satisfaction among the workforce. As you can imagine, this is something that varies across the board.

In the agriculture, manufacturing and construction industries, ergonomics hasn't taken hold like it has in the 9-5 office culture. Billions of dollars in worker's compensation claims are paid out every year to the construction industry (see Washington state's numbers for Carpenters and Construction Craft Laborers for an example), and managers have been slow to adopt new methods.

Fortunately, groups such as OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) are in favor of implementing ergonomic equipment into the workplace. Under the Obama administration, the budget for OSHA has increased every year, and so have the number and the size of fines levied. In 2009, the average fine for a serious violation was $970. Over the next four years, the average serious fine has risen to over $3,000.

OSHA has stated that it won't "focus its enforcement efforts on employers who are making good faith efforts to reduce ergonomic hazards." By choosing to use ergonomic tools on a worksite, for example, an employer may be able to demonstrate that they're making a good faith effort to comply with the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) and keep their worksite free from ergonomic hazards.

Does this mean that every work site that uses traditional shovels and tools will be fined? This is unlikely - but those who decide to make a conscious effort to implement ergonomic tools may be rewarded by groups such as OSHA.

Employers have a responsibility to take care of their workers. Moreover, managers can serve the dual purpose of protecting their most important asset (employees) and boosting the bottom line by adopting ergonomic methods and well-being strategies which could reduce the risk of being slapped with a major fine. Whether it's ergonomic trainings, midday yoga classes, or simply the proper tools, our nation's manufacturing, agriculture, and construction industries can benefit substantially by instituting these policies. A healthy workspace shouldn't be constrained to the office any longer.

Stephen Bosse is the founder of Bosse Tools, a company that is rethinking classic tools in order to reduce the stress and strain on our nation's workers and keep them on the job. To learn more about Bosse Tools, visit their Kickstarter campaign here.