A comprehensive ergonomic program provides benefits for employees and utility.
Workplace environment strategies are designed to support a customer-focused culture and provide a workplace that is safe and productive. These strategies are core to a company’s overall goal of retaining talented and diverse employees. Utility customer service leaders facing retention challenges may find value in reviewing their workplace strategies to ensure they are providing a comprehensive ergonomic program and the appropriate tools and equipment.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics indicates that work-related musculoskeletal disorders represent one-third of all non-fatal injuries and illnesses. A best practice to reduce these types of injuries is to have a complete ergonomics program in place. Ergonomics is a discipline that involves arranging the work environment to fit the person in it. When applied correctly, eye strain, musculoskeletal discomfort and fatigue are reduced significantly.
An ergonomics program, generally part of the company’s overall safety program, is a systematic method for preventing, evaluating and managing work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Elements to include in an ergonomics program are worksite analysis and design, and training.
Worksite analysis and design identifies jobs and workstations that may contain musculoskeletal hazards, the risk factors and the causes of the risk factors. The analysis will include recommendations to eliminate or minimize hazards by changing the jobs, workstations, tools or environment to fit the worker.
This type of analysis may include individual consulting for employees with unique physical challenges. Our senior safety engineer at NSTAR, George Popovici, offers “desk-side service” for NSTAR employees. This service is highly valued in our customer service department, as well as throughout the company.
Women who are expecting take advantage of these desk-side visits to identify and complete workstation adjustments. This same service has custom-measured and outfitted workstations to accommodate physically disabled employees so they can process customer orders.
A worksite analysis may also identify technology solutions that support employees. For instance, software that reads computer screens can be designed for visually impaired employees. The software uses a speech synthesizer and the computer’s sound card to read information aloud from the screen. Thanks to this technology, we have two visually impaired employees at NSTAR who provide excellent customer service via phone.
Ergonomics awareness training can be particularly helpful for raising awareness of the importance of appropriate workstation positioning. Employees themselves can ensure their workstation is appropriately positioned or complete exercises to mitigate fatigue. At NSTAR, for example, a 60 percent reduction of repetitive motion injuries was realized following ergonomic intervention and basic awareness training.
Customer service leaders need to ensure that adequate resources are allotted to support a highly productive workplace environment. These resources include staff or support from experts to evaluate and design workplace solutions. Budget dollars are needed to support investment in fully adjustable workstations, ergonomic chairs and technology tools that enable employees to perform at their best. To ensure effective use of limited budget dollars, consider gaining advice from either internal safety professionals or external resources on the Internet or from facilities designers.
According to our safety professionals, our investment in a comprehensive ergonomics program at NSTAR has resulted in a return on investment in approximately three years based on productivity and medical claims.
One of our physically disabled NSTAR employees, Daniel Merritt, recently summarized his experience in working with NSTAR’s safety professionals. “I have never felt this accommodated,” said Merritt. “Most, if not all, work environments are fit for able-bodied employees. My only limitations are physical and by adapting the ergonomics of my work environment to suit my unique disposition, it helps me to achieve my actualized potential. All I can say is, “˜This is the best company I have ever worked for.'”
Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, Massachusetts’ largest investor-owned electric and gas utility. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including CS Week, the Consortium for Energy Efficiency and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Her first book, “Customer Service: Utility Style,” has been published by PennWell Books.