From Participatory Ergonomics to Health and Safety

By: Debra Milek   Gene Woodard  

Custodians have an elevated rate of injury compared to other occupations and is a concern within our university, our state, and nationally. Beginning with a grant from WA Labor and Industry, we surveyed custodians to find out what work causes discomfort. From that survey we identified high discomfort tasks that we could modify ergonomically. Custodians, health and safety professionals (medical, ergonomic and industrial hygiene) and managers, supervisors and the director of the department worked together to find solutions. Repeating the survey after task modification and training, we saw a decrease in reported discomfort in those tasks and a reduction in REBA scores. After the grant concluded, the program was continued in a similar format, with weekly meetings to address additional discomfort causing tasks. The program has evolved to further mature the health and safety program beyond ergonomics.To do so, we have addressed areas such as maintaining the appropriate staffing, changes in training processes and rotating participation in the weekly meeting so that all custodians at some point are able to bring new ideas, share best practices or voice concerns. Minutes of each session are distributed back to the work groups so that those not in attendance can be kept up to date. Finally, we asked the workers what they need from managers and each other to make the workplace a safer environment. We will review our injury data and time loss due to injury as well as other parameters to see what the impact of our changes has been.

Ergonomics, Custodians, Participatory
2019 Special Focus: The New Story of Organizing
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Debra Milek

Associate Professor, General Internal Medicine, University of Washington, United States
United States

Gene Woodard

Director, Building Services