How to purchase the right work equipment, reduce injury and save money

How to purchase the right work equipment, reduce injury and save money

by | Musculoskeletal Disorders

Purchasing equipment for employees can be quite a tricky business because of the various factors you need to consider. Is it fit for purpose? How often would it be used? Who would be using it? When would it be used? Is it within our budget? When do we make the transition (switch)? Who would be involved in the decision making? And the list goes on and on.

 

Phew! That was exhausting!

 

Then you buy the equipment and after a while you start receiving complaints and reports of injury.

You are shocked! “What went wrong?” “Why the complaints?” “Why the injuries?” you ask. After all, you followed the checklist and meet the requirements. You didn’t just pick up a glossy brochure and bought blindly!

 

TWO WORDS: USABILITY AND TRIALLING.

 

One of the main reasons I’m brought in by a company to carry out assessments with either on their worker or the whole work site is because the equipment didn’t fit the worker (usability).

From driving to manual handling assessment, the reasons are mostly the same. The employee or team couldn’t use the equipment and are now complaining of injury or they might even have gone off-sick and refusing to return unless the equipment was changed.

 

Does that sound familiar?

 

Not because the machine, vehicle, furniture doesn’t work as intended but the worker complains of discomfort or pain when they use or interact with it.

 

The employee might be too tall in the case of a van driver and there isn’t enough leg room or head space causing knee and back pain. Or the hand-held machine is too loud and vibrates more than expected when in use causing back pain. Or the work surface (desk) is too high they can’t comfortably reach it leading to shoulder pain.

 

This are just a few of the many scenarios but they all point to the same thing – USABILITY.

 

WHAT IS USABILITY

 

According to UsabilityNet, it is making products and systems easier to use and matching them more closely to user needs and requirements.

A 2006 research published in Software Quality Journal, reported that usability not only increases the speed and accuracy of the range of tasks carried out by a range of users of a system, but also ensures the health and safety of the user.

 

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Let’s go back to the beginning (I’m rewinding now)!

 

You want to purchase a fleet of vehicles or kit up your office or replace that machine. The first thing you need to do (You know this already) is to have a list of features that the equipment must have to be fit for purpose. For example. A desk big enough to accommodate two monitors, a van that can whizz in and out of a city, or a hand-held barcode scanner with a higher processing power.

You get my gist, right?

When you have whittled it down to a handful of choices, you now need to access its usability.

There are 4 factors of usability to consider;

  1.  USERS

Evaluating the composition of your team is highly vital. No team is the same. It doesn’t mean that if the equipment worked in your previous team it would work with this team.

 

WHY? THE MAKE UP OF YOUR TEAM

 

a. SIZE

How tall is the tallest person or the shortest person in your team, if you are purchasing a product that height might be a factor, e.g. in the case of a van or workstation. Is there enough legroom? Can the shortest person reach the foot pedal? Can they reach the shelves? Can they get into the enclosed room without having to stoop?

 

b.  AGE

What are the age bracket of your team? Can the older team members grasp the software technology as quickly as the younger team members? Can the younger team keep up with the work pace using the equipment? Does the software have assistive technology e.g. computer screen readers?

 

c.  GENDER

What is the ratio of women to men? Would the gloves be the right fit for the women? Can the women wear the equipment for up to 8 hours without fatigue? Can the men multitask interacting with the equipment like the women? Ha! I am being biased now!

 

d. SKILL

Are the newer team members skilful enough to use the equipment with minimal training?

 

These are the questions you need to find out before you purchase because it might fit a group of people but not the rest of the team. It might even require you to go back to the drawing board. But you have just missed a bullet to buy an equipment that could increase the risk of injury, costing you more than you budgeted for.

 

2.  JOB TASK

Yu have to spend a little bit more time here. This is where you compare the features of the equipment to the task the team carries out during their shift. Analysing how the equipment would make the task more efficient with minimal stress and strain.

In the ergonomics world, we call this TASK ANALYSIS. We have different ways of conducting this analysis but I wouldn’t bog you down with the technicalities.

 

HOW TO CARRY OUT A TASK ANALYSIS

Firstly, get the job description. Ask the team or user for the breakdown of their job tasks. Or you or someone else could observe them throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be too detailed, just enough to give you an overview of their job tasks.

 

NOTE: If you think you need a more detailed analysis e.g. installing an equipment that would totally change the team’s work processes or revamping an office of 200 employees with diverse job roles, then I recommend you call in the professionals, an ergonomist (I so happen be one!).

 

Below is a sample of a task analysis of an office administrator.

TASKS

START AND (LENGTH) 0F TASKS TOTAL TIME SPENT

% OF TASK PER SHIFT

Computing 9am                 (1 hr) 11.30am (1.5hrs) 2.30     (1.5hrs) 5pm     (20mins) 4 hours 20 mins 51%
Meeting 10.10am (50mins) 4.15    (45mins) 95 mins 19%
Reading document 11am   (30mins) 5.20pm (10mins) 40 mins 8%
Filing 2pm     (30mins) 6%
Breaks 10am    (10mins) 1pm           (1hr) 4pm     (15mins) 16%

 

In the above scenario, let’s say the equipment you wanted to purchase was a desk. Looking at the breakdown the administrator sits at her computer half of her working shift computing. Would a sit-stand desk be ideal for her to alternate her positions?

Or you can now see that she needs a document holder for reading. You can also see that she spent 30 minutes on filing. Is there a better solution? Cloud file-sharing, perhaps!

It allows you make intelligent decisions on what the user needs to work more efficiently.

 

3.  ENVIRONMENT

I once conducted a product evaluation for a company that wanted to introduce computer tablets as a data-entry solution for their field mobile workers. They had narrowed down to 2 choices but wanted an ergonomics evaluation. Amongst other factors, one of the factors I analysed was the environment it was to be used. Outdoors.

The viewing feature of one of them was superior to the other because it had no glare reflection on the screen both indoors or outdoors unlike the other.

This inadequacy was not brought up by the suppliers neither was it highlighted. So if I hadn’t be called in, they could have probably gone with the 2nd choice and made a fatal error. Rolling it out to over 1000 staff and realising the glare issue would have costed them more than they bargained for, but most importantly, their staff would have been at a higher risk of eye strain and headache.

Find out what environment the equipment would be used. Can it function both in cold and warm temperatures? Can it be used in different ambient lighting levels without having to wear a torch accessory? Can it be heard in that noisy workshop or be quiet enough for the library?

 

4.  ORGANISATION

This is the area that can be difficult to analyse but has a huge influence on the buy-in and usage of the equipment. It could be as simple as the layout of the office. For example, if the printer was in a different floor, it might become a hassle to pick up the print-outs, slowing down processes or even misplacing sensitive print-outs.

Other factors to consider would be;

  1. Work demand: Would the equipment be able to keep up the high speed to churn out information?
      2.  Staffing levels: Are there enough staff to interact with the machine or would there be safety implications.
      3.   Relationship with management: Would they be heard when issues relating to the equipment are raised.
     4.  Team behaviour: Would they totally buy-in or use alternate equipment? If so, what would be required for the equipment to function optimally?

 

With all these factors to consider, how do you go about finding out the answers?

 

THIS IS WHERE TRIALLING COMES IN.

Testing the equipment with the users to assess its suitability and pinpoint any issues that might not have been highlighted.

TRIALLING

I always recommend these to my clients. You never know how an equipment would function until it has been tested.

There are no hard and fast rule to trialling. It could be tested for one hour or one month. This would demand largely on the equipment, the quantity and the size of your team.

So for example if you were purchasing keyboards for 2 users, trialling it for an hour could be enough. For a fleet of vehicles, 3 months trialled by a couple of the team members.

 

HOW TO TRIAL EQUIPMENT?

  1. Start with a shortlist of choices based on the features and your budget. Also bear in mind the accessories it might need.
   2.   Pick a selection of people from your team with different variables. For example if purchasing a fleet of vans, pick the tallest and shortest team member to measure the leg room, seat comfortability and accessibility to the foot pedals. You could also trial it out with your long and short distance drivers.
    3.  Draw up a checklist of the features you want to measure in a feedback form. Use a Likert scale to measure the level of usability. Let it include features that improve comfortability, ease of use and adjustability.
For example if you were trialling an office chair, the questions could be;
Questions:
Are the seat adjusters easy to reach and operate?
How adjustable are the back rest angle and height to suit you?
How supportive and comfortable is the sear within the hour, after 4 hours, all day?
Did any area of your body feel pain or discomfort? Give details.
How easily can the chair move on its castors?
How easily can the armrest slide under the desk or rotated to get out of the way?
How appropriate is the lumbar support?

 

4.   Collate and analyse the data from the feedback form and use the information to make your final choice.

You have eliminated guesswork decisions, reduced pending injury and saved you money.

 

Wow! We made it to the end! Hope that answers your questions.

 

Note: Again, if you need to evaluate the equipment and unsure how to conduct it especially if the equipment is for a large team, seek expert advice. Give us a call.

 

SHARE WITH US

Are there any ways you go about purchasing equipment that works for you and your team? Leave a comment.

By Ugo Akpala-Alimi

Ugo is a Workplace Musculoskeletal Health Expert. She is a Chartered Physiotherapist with a masters degree in Ergonomics. 15+ years' experience. Treated 9,000+ patients. Conducted work assessments++. Worked with companies including BP, UKPN. On a mission to help managers reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders and create 'ouchless' workplaces. Hasn't yet gotten the magic elixir for injury-resistant workers (still busy concocting).

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