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Ergonomics in RTW: 

Ergonomics in RTW Marianne Cloeren, MD, MPH USACHPPM FHP 2003


Topics Ergonomics and Claim Avoidance Ergonomics and Claim Investigation Ergonomics and Temporary Light Duty Ergonomics and Permanent Modified Duty Assignments Ergonomics and Reasonable Accommodation Ergonomics Resources

Ergonomics and Claim Avoidance: 

Ergonomics and Claim Avoidance Obviously pro-active prevention is the key to avoiding ergonomic-related injuries Reactive prevention is also effective! Early complaints before objective findings of MSD OH/ergonomic evaluation of work area  cheap fixes  symptoms  no claim Don’t make the employee file a claim before you investigate and fix the problem!

Example of Claim Avoidance: 

Example of Claim Avoidance Scenario: Several employees moved into new/renovated workspace New desks/computer workstations After a couple weeks, “Fred” complains of neck and shoulder pain

Example of Claim Avoidance: 

Example of Claim Avoidance Possible responses and probable outcomes Ignore  patient sees personal MD who believes diagnosis is needed in order to bill or get corrections made to work area  claim Evaluate  corrections  improved symptoms  no claim!  co-workers risk addressed

Ergonomics and Claim Investigation: 

Ergonomics and Claim Investigation Ergonomics evaluation should be part of investigation of: Any acute traumatic musculoskeletal injuries related to lifting or materials handling Backs Shoulders Knee strains Cumulative trauma type of complaints

Ergonomics and Ca-2 Claim Investigation: 

Ergonomics and Ca-2 Claim Investigation Investigate tasks and movements, postures, reach, weights, etc. AND Amount of time employee spends doing them Number of months/years employee has spent doing them Are others doing same job having problems?

Agency Response to Claim Related to Ergonomics: 

Agency Response to Claim Related to Ergonomics Should include: Job description with physical demands Length of time employee was in job Ergonomics review of job, including duration, frequency, repetitions, force, positions, tools Any information known about other jobs, medical history, etc. that may be relevant

Ergonomics and Temporary Light Duty: 

Ergonomics and Temporary Light Duty Common Errors Putting symptomatic employee back to same work without looking at and correcting problems Putting recently improved employee back to same work without looking at and correcting problems Putting symptomatic employee back to work in splints

Ergonomics and Temporary Light Duty: 

Ergonomics and Temporary Light Duty When should Ergonomics evaluations be used? Before returning employee to same work area – are modifications needed to make it safe? Before returning employee to different work area Considering positions that may work for an employee with restrictions Evaluating and implementing accommodations suggested by treating MD

Example: Problem: 

Example: Problem Doctor recommendations: No lifting >20# No twisting No bending >10 x/hour No constant sitting Change positions frequently

Example: Solution: 

Example: Solution Ergonomist recommendations: Neutral posture Engineering controls Keep work in “strike zone” Lift assist Movement assist Clear clutter Sit/stand stools

Ergonomics and Permanent Modified Duty Assignments: 

Ergonomics and Permanent Modified Duty Assignments When employee has reached MMI but still has limitations Permanent restrictions have been defined Use ergonomics to evaluate possible positions for job offer, and determine if changes are needed to make the job fit the restrictions Use ergonomics evaluation to convince treating doc and OWCP to release the employee to work

Example: Problem: 

Example: Problem Warehouse employee has permanent restrictions on right overhead reach and weight limit of 20 lbs (using both arms) following shoulder surgery with incomplete recovery

Example: Solution: 

Example: Solution Ergonomics evaluation of warehouse revealed all work areas require full use of both arms and shoulders Proposed assignment to the company mailroom, where most packages weigh under ten lbs., and there are co-workers to move the packages > 20 lbs. Ergonomics review led to change to keep all packages >10 lbs on lower shelves Ergonomics review concluded that proposed job meets MD restrictions and job offer made

Ergonomics and Reasonable Accommodation: 

Ergonomics and Reasonable Accommodation Many medical disabilities for which employee may request reasonable accommodation have ergonomic aspects Job functions should be described as essential or non-essential Ability to do essential job functions must be considered with and without accommodation Ability to do non-essential job functions is irrelevant

Example: Problem: 

Example: Problem Clerical employee is returning to work following bilateral CTS surgery related to arthritis Doctor advises keying for no more than 20 minutes every hour, use of split keyboard, 5 minute break each hour to rest and stretch, maintenance of neutral posture

Reasonable Accommodation Example: 

Reasonable Accommodation Example What else do we need to know? What are her job duties? Which are essential? Which are non-essential?

Reasonable Accommodation Job Duties: 

Reasonable Accommodation Job Duties Essential: Entering laboratory data into computer program, performing QA check on data, producing routine reports Non-essential: Acting as back-up for time-keeper for her work area

Ergonomics Review: 

Ergonomics Review Job is done at a terminal, shared with others on other shifts, with a pull-out keyboard tray, mouse on the desk Data entry is from the night before. Data entry is done for the first 3 hours every morning – constant keying. Remainder of day is spent on QA checks, reports, with intermittent and non-repetitive keyboard use


Consider possible changes in way work is done: Scanning Dictation Change work order Spread keying out over the course of the day to come close to MD recommendation for 20 min/hour limit Improve workstation ergonomics Adjustable tray with room for the mouse Split keyboard Example: Solution


Questions? 410-436-1011

Ergonomics Resources : 

Ergonomics Resources

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