‘What’s to know about Ergo?’ with Kirsty Angerer
Richard: Hey welcome back to the Safeti podcast. This is episode seven, I’m your host Richard Collins. In this episode we speak to the one and only traveling ergonomist Kirsty Angerer. Kirsty has traveled across the globe analyzing thousands upon thousands of employees and their workplaces to become an expert in her field. In this episode we delve into the disconnect between ergonomics and health and well-being. We look at why you should make ergo part of your business strategy. Kirsty discusses some of the massive problems that she’s seeing in the modern workplace and then we look at ways that you can avoid them. I also managed to squeeze in a question with Kirsty on the debate over standing desks. Are they good, are they bad. If you’re anything like me you’ll have seen lots of research out there which way is one way or the other. We get her opinion on that as well. So that’s just a little taster. If it sounds like something that would be useful to you please keep listening. [Music]
Welcome to the safeti podcast with your host all the way from a small green island in the wild Atlantic Ocean, Richard Collins.
First of all I’d like to thank you for pressing play and listening in to this podcast series. We’ve got some really interesting and inspiring guests lined up on the show over the next few weeks. So I’m really stoked just to be sharing this with you and hopefully helping you to make decisions to stay motivated and ultimately to have more impact in what you do. This is the safeti podcast where we aren’t afraid to ask and get the answers to the awkward questions on your behalf. This is where we tell it like it really is to help keep you on top of your game. So let’s waste no more time, let’s get down to business. Here’s our call with Kirsty.
Richard: Kirsty Angerer thank you so much for coming on to the safeti podcast and to talk about ergonomics today. How are you?
Kirsty: No problem thanks so much for having me .yeah great thanks.
Richard: Good good. as I say thanks for coming on the show and it’s great to have you know an ergonomic specialist coming on and sharing with us some information that can be shared with lots and lots of HSE professionals across the UK and beyond. So just as a means of introduction you’re the traveling ergonomist as you like to be known and you put lots of great content out there to help us in terms of looking into ergonomic issues in the workplace. So how did you actually get to doing this and tell us a wee bit about your background if you don’t mind.
Kirsty: So I guess a bit random. So I’ve always been quite a sporty kid and really into sport. Played every sport you know known to mankind really at school and really into design as well. So when I came across Ergonomics, I think I was about 16 when I was doing graphic design. I just found it really interesting and thought I’d pursue it. Because it kind of covers that and that’s me in physiology as well as the design aspect. So it fit perfectly for what I wanted to get out of it. So I studied ergonomics and human factors at Loughborough University for four years and in between I had one year you know on-site 12 months of kind of work experience. so absolutely wonderful and I’ve worked in London for five years and then nearly two years in Sydney Australia and then just moved back to the UK to start the traveling ergonomist.
Richard: Awesome. So you’re obviously getting around quite a lot then both in the UK and outside I take it.
Kirsty: Definitely yes I’m off to my next trip is Italy. So I am off to the International Ergonomics Association conference. Which is basically a week conference in Italy all about ergonomics and just bringing out the latest research and ergonomics. I’m obviously excited for the pizza and pasta.
Richard: Yeah can’t beat Italy for the food, not to mention the wine of course. so yeah it sounds like you have really good sort of reason for doing what you do and obviously it’s why you’re so passionate about it and in terms of for HSE professionals, we’re challenged with modern workplaces and the development of you know people sitting at desks as well as obviously you know physical work being a problem for MSK or musculoskeletal disorders. What do you see as the problem you know throughout your work then in general and can you paint the picture for us of what’s actually happening at the moment.
Kirsty: Yeah so well I guess the first thing to talk about is I felt for a while now, particularly last few years well actually I think it’s been a problem in the last few decades even before I became an ergonomist that ergonomics still presented as quite a boring gray you know feels like a chore to most people subject and I think that’s probably partly due to us ergonomist you know that we’ve presented it that way. we’ve presented it as a true health and safety issue and you know as I’m sure all your listeners believe you know for many people who are not in the health and safety industry wearing you know white coats and steel toe-caps shoes isn’t the highlight of their day. So I think ergonomics has kind of gone into that aspect of Health and Safety. When really it’s always been about optimizing human wellbeing and enhancing people’s performance. That’s really what ergonomics is all about and in this era of wellness where you know we’ve got gyms popping up everywhere and healthy eating yoga Pilates and wellness programs in corporate offices I think ergonomics really is seeing a shift and should really be part of that wellness aspect versus health and safety. Of course naturally its part of health and safety, of course it is and it always should be. But I think we need to present it as I guess a sexier subject.
Richard: A lot of people listening I’m sure their exposure to ergonomics per se depending on what industry they’re in might be restricted to sort of display screen assessments and that type of thing, that’s very limited. Whereas you’re talking about the performance aspect and I think from that point of view that you know whether or not you categorize it as health and safety or well-being or whatever, usually HSE professional’s possession they’re going to have some influence or some say or responsibility as to how these things are dealt with. But from where I’m sitting I can see a really big opportunity here in terms of the actual body for the organization in terms of productivity and of course well-being and then therefore performance. so you know from what do you see why is ergonomic important for business and you know can you tell us a bit more about how you approach it and sort of convince businesses why they should look at it in more depth.
Kirsty: Yeah so I mean like I said you know ergonomics is all about well-being and improving performance and I think part of businesses issues are that they’ve never thought of ergonomics as a business strategy. They’ve just thought of it as this reactive process where if someone has back pain oh let’s get the ergonomist or health and safety professional in to do a quick DFC assessment and hopefully that will sort them out. When actually if you use economics as a business strategy and align it with the overall business strategy, you’re going to have a much better outcome. So you know if businesses, if their strategy is in January 2019 to increase revenue; which I’m sure most businesses want to do. Ergonomics can help with that business strategy. If your staff are healthy and working more productively and happier, of course it’s going to generate more revenue. That’s just you know a no-brainer really. so I think that’s the biggest thing that ergonomics can help with is more business strategy and I think that’s what we need to move and transition in towards as well and you know agile working now as well. Home workers travel regularly as well. they need to be part of this program too and health and safety professionals have such a big role to tackle and that they should be actually brought on board much much earlier on in the process I feel. I think hopefully I can speak for them a little bit. But as an ergonomist as well we’ve always brought on when someone has a problem. Whereas actually if you brought us on when we can actually add value and be proactive and stop issues from occurring, it adds so much more value.
Richard: When you touched on the health and wellness side of things, do you see it being segregated from that at the moment? Is that what you’re saying? And you think that it should be somewhat ruled into you know into in some way. I actually can relate to you there in terms of health and well-being programs do tend to set outside of things like production processes and so on. You know is there a bit of a disconnect there? Is that what you are identifying?
Kirsty: Absolutely there’s a massive disconnect between that. Basically this comes down to the key stakeholders of the business not talking to one another. you know you’ve got facilities managers who have so many hats to wear as well and they potentially look after the furniture specifications in offices and then you have health and safety, who have their role, you then have Human Resources who look after people and then you have all these various other people who are just not quite talking to one another and if you can get all the key stakeholders together in one room and get them talking and presenting each of their individual team strategies, I think there’s a better opportunity to bring that as a business strategy overall and at the moment wellness ergonomics just really isn’t part of that process and revenue generating strategy. Which it really should be.
Richard: Yeah cool yeah I agree with you. a lot of the time and I think that’s a lot of the reason why you know I’m doing this project to try and give people good information and insights into what you’re finding in businesses. because there are a lot of commonalities and you know exactly what you’re describing their I’ve seen it on my own career where you know business functions are soloed and there’s no correspondence between what one section of people are doing on another and there’s a lot of lost opportunity and within that I feel you know. So that’s obviously looking at the work, sorry the business and side of things and what if they be gain from the business and the value proposition for them. Which of course is key and a lot of respects to actually justifying putting money and resources into ergonomic design. But obviously you know as Health and Safety professionals one of our main objectives is to look after the short-term and long-term health of the workers. so looking at the more sort of medical side of it and the potential for long term chronic conditions and injury, can you give us a bit more of an insight into actually what the problems are there from a physical point of view.
Kirsty: Yeah I mean you know musculoskeletal disorders are rife within offices at the moment and you know people look at me when I talk about risk factors in office and they go how anyone can be ill working in an office. You just sat down at a desk working on a computer, it’s not very high-risk. It’s not you know you’re not in a manufacturing plant where you could cut off a finger and that kind of thing. but actually offices presents so many risk factors and not just offices, using your mobile phone, your laptop, your iPad they present so many issues for a human body and you can see you know the health and safety executive half statistics on this and I think 2016 and 2017, 507,000 workers were suffering from work-related muscular disorders. Which means 8.9 million days were lost in terms of working days that people have to take, you know that costs businesses millions or billions per year.
Richard: Yeah it’s astronomical and in terms of the type of injuries generally that you would see and from my own experience you know a lot of focus that I would always put on our ergonomic programs is that you know early reporting is very very important in terms of trying to limit any damage or potential long-term issues with injuries and you know symptoms coming from poor design and processes. What are the main things that you’re seeing there and tell us more about how they can be easily avoided.
Kirsty: I think probably two main areas of musculoskeletal I see when I’m in office environments is lower back issues. So you know around the lumbar area and upper limb disorders. So neck pain, tennis elbow, medial and lateral epicondylitis. So kind of just inflammation around the forearm, the wrists and the fingers. Because you’re you know doing such repetitive tasks by typing and moussing and sitting really. So those are think we’re the two categories and there’s two types of injuries; nerve and tendon related. So tendon related are things like tennis elbow where you can just fix it by wearing a strap for a week or so making sure you’re not using that specific hand and you know taking a few anti-inflammatories and pain killers and hope it doesn’t come back. Whereas nerve related issues are really really severe and often times you can’t have surgery to fix it. So people who have those types of issues tend to be stuck with them for the rest of their lives. If there is surgery available, like the carpal tunnel syndrome surgery more than likely in ten years down the line they’re going to have to have that surgery again. Because they haven’t changed the way that they work.
Richard: That’s something I was going to ask you about you know. It’s that long-term change that needs to happen. But looking at it from a preventative point of view you know what we need to change in terms of the actual expectations for office workers, people doing repetitive tasks. how can we educate businesses to set the expectation that something needs to be done to diminish the risk before it happens rather than looking at you know reactive measures or treating injuries as you mentioned earlier.
Kirsty: Yeah I really think it’s actually a combination of two things. so a combination of the products that are being designed currently so desks chairs, laptops, laptop stands those kind of things or even environments or restaurants, cafes, collaborative spaces those people who are designing that need to really start to look at ergonomics more seriously and design things that aren’t going to affect people in terms of their health and then you know that takes decades to do that. As in the meantime as a culture, as a human race we need to be educated on how to set our body in the most neutral posture possible and that’s actually not even just related to digital devices. That could be how we brush our teeth, how we walk, how we sit on the sofa, how we you know cook our food for dinner. It really has to be implemented from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep and I think that’s the disconnect as well. So people may go to the gym for an hour every day, which is great. You know benefiting their cardiovascular system. But if you’re sit for eight hours before you go to the gym for that one hour session, it’s not going to help you that much. Because you’re still going to suffer with lower back discomfort and it may even cause your lower back discomfort to be worse. Because you’re adding so much more load when you go to the gym as well. So I think…
Richard: two extremes isn’t it really? Yeah I often worry about that myself, sitting for too long and then you know try to run fast…
Kirsty: Sorry Richard there’s a guy called James Levine and he’s a researcher and he talks about NEET. Which is non exercise activity thermogenesis and basically that’s all the activity that we do that isn’t sleep and specific exercise. Basically the stuff that we do now. Walking to get a glass of water in the office, going to the printer, going to the loo that kind of thing and we just don’t do enough of that in a day as we should. We can increase our NEET during the day, we’re going to be in a much better state of well-being.
Richard: It makes a lot of sense. I suppose for HSE professionals or people that have responsibility for workers here, maybe what you’re saying is that we need to tap into ways to encourage that NEET movement or however you want to term it and encouraging that more throughout today as part of normal working in an office or wherever rather than even focusing on going to the gym or doing something more extreme and just breaking things up and doing more to move and to vary what you’re doing and actually when we’re on that, what’s your opinion on you love me for asking this, what’s your opinion on standup desks? Because there’s a lot of opinions on them at the moment and I would say conflicting research, you don’t know what to believe. So I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s struggling to answer the question on that.
Kirsty: At the moment I wake up to at least one or two messages from my friends or colleagues in the industry with a new sit stand article in the media. So it’s an interesting subject. I actually like sit stand workstations you know. I use one at home and it encourages me to move out my seated posture. The problem with them is that number one they have this placebo effect. You put sit stand desks in to the office and of course people are going to use them for the first one to two weeks. Because it’s a new toy, you know it’s like a Christmas gift effect you get all your Christmas gifts and you play with them for a week and then the kids push them away to the side. It’s that effect. So you have that placebo effect of everything’s working, it’s giving you that health and well-being that you want to feel. But then they put it back down and stay seated for the rest of the year. So I think there’s a lack of training when it comes to implementing sit stand desks. So I think that needs to change and you know also whilst I love sit stand desks, they do encourage movement and when you are standing you are more likely to move. So if you’re already standing typing an email, you’re more likely to go into speech or colleague versus just send them another email. Which is great. But you know having a product that makes you stand isn’t the only thing that’s going to make you move. You can create environments that do allow you to move. So there’s lots of companies out there now who are creating walking meetings. So they’re basically designing two different carpet colors and if you’re on the same red carpet, people know that you are now having a meeting and not to disturb you. But you’re walking around that office and having that 20 minute chat with each other or standing meeting, so historically meetings are sat down, you spend 20 minutes talking about your weekend, having a tea and a biscuit and haven’t really added much value. Where as we know through the research that if you have a standing meeting, it takes much quicker. It’s a much quicker meeting and you get much more value out of it. So I think I love sit-stand desks. Because they do encourage movement. But they really need a lot of Education and training alongside them.
Richard: Yeah I agree I’ve seen a lot of instances where they have been introduced and as you say may be used for a week or two and then just ignore them and not used. but obviously from a business point of view then it’s hard to justify ruling that out to everyone and you know many times it would be nice to do that. But it’s just hard to justify if it’s not going to be utilized as much as possible. So maybe training is the answer there as you say.
Kirsty: Yeah so there’s some research that has just come out, I can’t exactly remember who wrote the piece. But they showed that businesses who implement a hundred percent sit stand workstations, after period of time only 7 percent of their staff will carry on using the sit stand desks.
Richard: Wow that’s kind of says a lot, doesn’t it?
Kirsty: it just shows. I personally would advise my clients to implement 10 to 20% of sit-stand desks in to their business and then add other environments to complement that as well.
Richard: Yes that sounds good and that’s something I’ve sort of advocated myself is just giving people the option of using a stand-up desk in various areas and then they can integrate it in their normal working day where possible and see how it’s fitted for them and so on and then you know take it from there. Talking here and every company has that responsibility to look after their employees. As we know of course lots of companies have endless resources and others have very little to spend on these types of things. for HSE professionals you know we have a choice if we are looking on ergonomics we can get help from external consultants such as yourself or we can look at doing some risk assessment and improvement using some of the tools that are available. I mentioned to you about the HSE art tool. Can you give us opinion on those how useful you see them being and whether there’s any sort of you know restrictions with them or limitations with them.
Kirsty: Yeah so the |ART tool by the HSE is the assessment of repetitive tasks in the upper limb. So you know arms, neck, head that kind of area of your body. So it’s obviously a great tool. because it allows someone in the health and safety team to conduct a risk assessment of an employee’s especially with their upper limbs and identify what the risks are in that specific environment. So absolutely they’re good tools and there’s ruler and Reaper. Which is you know the rapid upper limb assessment and the rapid entire body assessment. Which were designed by a couple of ladies you know a couple of decades ago. Now which still today I use both of those tools when required. The only problem with these tools are we have so much data now, so much data and these are basically a means of collecting data. The problem we have with this is that not everybody understands what to do with that data and how to provide a solution for it. So it’s all well and good understanding what your risks are and you know what employees are at risk of lower back discomfort or neck discomfort or whatever it might be. But if you can’t provide a solution for those risk factors and there’s really no point assessing anything.
Richard: Yeah just another tick box exercise it could turn out to be I suppose. Yeah of course. I think something that I’ve seen just going back to what you were saying earlier and going back to the sort of connection between ergonomics and health and well-being is we’re sort of challenged a lot of the time and I’m sure you see it as well. Kirsty with where people have pre-existing conditions. They’re in at work and these conditions are being flagged and perhaps you know it feels like they’re looking for a solution from the HSE professional where you know we can only provide them with something that moderately helps. but it’s not going to be you know a silver bullet to their problems and that’s something I would find, would you see that sort of issue much in your experience and obviously going back to the amount of working days lost there. It’s quite significant.
Kirsty: I see that a lot you know. An employee might play golf every weekend. So you know golf is not a risky sport by any means. but it does offer risk factors when you are golfing and they may get wrist issues or lower back issues and they come into the office that week to work and of course sitting in a workstation, sitting for long periods is going to aggravate, that will exacerbate whatever they’re feeling. But it’s nothing to do at a workstation at that point. It is to do with what they’ve done outside of work and how do we manage that process? So I agree with you completely that. Just doing a brief assessment of someone’s workstation also in one hour of their eight hour-ten-hour day is probably not good enough at this stage.
Richard: Yeah it’s not reflective of what else is happening across a more significant amount of time to get insight into what you’re seeing there and I think the stuff you’re providing, I know you’re putting videos online and so on. Which the listeners can check right and I will provide them links or to do that for HSE professionals. you know it’s really helpful just getting that or snippets of what finding in the field when you’re working and you know that for us to use those nuggets of information to try and help us make decisions with you know those issues that I’ve described. but I’m sure a lot of people are seeing the same things over and over again and often it is difficult to sort of find the balance and juggle up all those risk factors that you may or may not be aware of because of you know people what they’re doing outside of when you’re assessing them or even outside of work as well. Of course which you know it’s also completely out of your control. So it’s often a very difficult task. in terms of what we can do generally then, you know the top things for anyone that maybe hasn’t tackled ergonomics in their business, what would your main focus points be for them to summarize?
Kirsty: Sure I think the first thing I would advise anyone do is actually just sit down and look at what program you already have in place right now and some companies may have nothing in place and some people might have parts of a program place. So I would say sit down, get your key stakeholders together and get everyone round a room for a couple of hours and understand out of the whole business what is going on. So are we doing online assessments? Are we doing paper assessments? Do we just react to things that come about? Are we quite productive or proactive? Once you have a kind of high level overview of what’s going on in your business, then you can identify what the gaps are. Potentially once you’ve identified the gaps, bring in an external ergonomist to help build that program. Really you know make it holistic and then once you have that program in place and for me a program is you know have an audit trail. So the best way to have an audit trail is using online software. so online assessments, so that if you are a business that has over 500 employees you can identify the risks pretty quickly and it’s all in one place that you can look at. It’s not paper documents. That would be my first kind of step 1. Step 2 would then be prioritize. Who are your top high factors people, high-risk people? so do you have a hundred people out those 500 that have significant issues and if so let’s tackle those hundred people first and then move on to the next and you know then you start to see quite quickly how your program is moving forward and the third piece of advice I would say is ergonomic, it is just not this one time fix. Everyone thinks that you send out an online assessment and we’ve done our job. We’ve kind of you know applied the health and safety rules and DSE regulations. But just sending an online form is not the best way to go. I think we need to make sure that maybe it’s monthly, maybe it’s quarterly or annually that we are reiterating ergonomics training and information. Whether that’s through newsletters or seminars or videos or workshops, reiterating that constantly. You know how many times you have been told to drink 8 glasses of water in the last decade or eat five pieces of fruit and vegetables. It’s a constant kind of array of media in our faces. I think that has to be the next step for ergonomics is that it’s constant all the time. So that we really feel comfortable with how our body is working.
Richard: I don’t know where I read some of this stuff. but the amount and the frequency of under 35 year olds, excuse me coming in with lower back issues or back issues in general has just you know skyrocketed over the last while and they reckon is just to do with the type of working that we’re doing. You know I’m sure you’re aware of that of how that’s developing. So if we don’t take action on this and obviously you know this comes down to you know being proactive and really caring about the long term health of your employees. If we don’t do this, what sort of things do you think we’re going to be seeing in the next 10 or 20 years?
Kirsty: Yeah so I mean most of those people you know that under thirty fives are probably the people that I see when I assess at the moment. It’s usually the 20 to 35 year olds. Because they’re the ones, the Millennial or the Gen Z’ers who are coming out from unit and already been using computers and laptops for a portion of their lives or even devices and they’re using them in such a bad way and with such poor posture. By the time they come into the office they already have chronic conditions. Which at 21 years old no one should have a chronic musculoskeletal disorder. It’s mad to me and then the reason is because we’re using laptops so much more regularly for so many more hours in the day and such poor postures. So using a laptop you’re going to force your head forward, force your chin forward, you’re going to flex your trunk forward. So that’s basically leaning forward posture and put a lot of load on that lower back area. So we’re going to see people with many lower back issues, many more neck and shoulder issues as well and even visual issues. So looking at a screen for long periods of time, I recently read an article I said that glaucoma and visual impairment is increasing now around the world because of the amount we use devices.
Richard: Wow yeah I think there’s a huge amount just to think about here and as you say what you’re seeing in young people even coming out of university at this stage, it’s quite frightening to think what sort of physical health they may have you know in the future, even 10 or 20 years into the future.
Kirsty: Yeah I mean I have friends who have two-year-old children, four year children and they already know how to use an iPad.
Richard: Yeah yeah guilty. no absolutely so I think it’s really valuable to discuss this and you know of course hopefully you can help share some valuable resources for the listeners and obviously we’ll give them your contact details and everything so that you can provide any feedback to them and support were necessary as well. So I just like to really thank you again for coming on the show Kirsty and I wish you all the best. I think it’s really important what you’re doing. So good luck.
Kirsty: Thank you so much Richard. I really appreciate it. Yeah if anyone wants to grab a coffee and a cake and I’m always around.
Richard: Cool that sounds like a good deal. Okay well take care with traveling Kirsty and thanks again.
Kirsty: Thank you.
Richard: So guys that was our call with Kirsty. Hopefully you’ll agree there’s lots of value within that conversation. Let’s look at some of the takeaways.
The first one was that ergonomics it should be integrated as a holistic part of your business strategy and not segregated from your health and well-being program. Which seems to be a very common issue.
The second one then the importance of promoting non-exercise activity is an opportunity that is often missed. As part of this for greater impact a risk assessment should take into account the full range of activities across the length of a shift or a day for an employee.
The third one then going on with risk assessment again is that they are useful, but they must be supported by the knowledge and competence to implement effective changes to fully realize any benefit.
The fourth big point then the Kirsty made that I picked up on was that HSE professionals need to start being aware of the high risk of Millennial and Gen Z’ers, who obviously make up the younger portion of our workforces. She is seeing chronic conditions being quite commonplace amongst young people and that HSE professionals and businesses need to be aware of that and start taking preventative action to change behaviors and avoid the risk going into the future. The last big point there was Kirsty was just discussing her template for an ergonomics program. The first point was that stakeholder involvement must be key at the beginning as we’ve already discussed.
The second part then is identifying the gaps within that program that exists currently. From that then you go on to build a holistic program as we said earlier that focus initially on high-risk people or areas and for maximum impact and then that must be a continual process of reviewing improvement. Which will ensure that both the employees and the business can continue to reap the benefits into the future.
Once again thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to tune in to the Safeti podcast. We hope this has been of some value to you. If you find this episode helpful please share it with your friends and peers. Don’t forget to subscribe for more relevant HSE content and please let us know what you’d like to hear in the future. If you did enjoy the show and would like us to continue, please leave us a review on iTunes as well. Which will help us. So until next time keep pushing things forward, keep having a positive impact by helping other people and we’ll see you soon.
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