Millennial Employees – The Ergonomic Tsunami

Millennial and Technology
Technology is resulting in a pain in the neck.

These guys have hit the nail on the head! This webinar was so good, I just had to pass on. For those of you who missed it, or don’t have time to listen, Nigel Heaton and Guy Osmond summarised their research and view on the future of ergonomics for employers – Millennial Employees – The Ergonomic Tsunami.

Nigel Heaton, BSc (ergs), DPS, Director, Human Applications & Guy Osmond, Managing Director, Osmond Group Limited

April 22, 2015   Ergo Expo Webinar, may be viewed for a short period of time at [].

Here’s a brief summary of the Webinar – with the Millennial generation hitting the workforce we are heading for an Ergonomic Tsunami with anticipated massive incidences of Musculo-Skeletal Disorders (MSD).  

So what is an MSD and how do you end up with an MSD?  MSD can occur anywhere in the body, however commonly result in a variety of possible symptoms: back pain, neck pain wrist pain, forearm pain, shoulder pain, etc. MSD are not a result of one thing, but are cumulative, they come on gradually and tend to be hidden from us until the pain strikes. 

So what’s different about the Millennials?  The Millennials are the first generation that has had technology exposure their entire lives, including the use of laptops, iPhones, iPads and other hand-held technologies.  The Millennials have spent the majority of their lives interacting on line, and can frequently be seen interacting with multiple devices at once.

Possible problems:

1. Self-awareness – Young people are likely to be fitter and more able to tolerate sitting in poor postures for long periods of time.  They likely believe that they are indestructible, and long-term health effects are deeply abstract to them.

2. How do we define comfort?  We mostly understand comfort as the absence of discomfort.  However the absence of discomfort does not always indicate the absence of risk.

3. Body Maps –  Body Maps are ingrained through years of muscle memory. For example, people with a taller than average stature tend to become accustomed to stooping whilst those shorter than average are used to not being able to reach the floor with their feet when sitting on chairs, public transport, etc.   Similar to children or teenagers lying on the bed using the laptop, and ‘feeling’ comfortable.

European studies have indicated there are problems amongst youngsters:

A Swiss study found lower back pain in children as young as 6, which was thought to be linked to factors such as carrying school bags (asymmetrical loading), and a Finnish study found MSD symptoms common amongst adolescents.

Some statistics about back pain:

Back pain in the USA – Manchikanti (2000) observed that 28% of US industrial population will suffer from lower back pain in any given year.

People with ‘back problems’ will have an average in excess of ten days off work per episode, and time between episodes is an average of five years.  For a 21 year-old retiring at 71, that is ten episodes, or 100 days days off work.

Waterman et all (2011) – 2.06 Million episodes of lower back pain requiring medical treatment in hospital.

What are the Risks for MSD?
It was identified that the risks for MSD haven’t really changed.  Mr Vern Putz-Anderson, who is known as the ‘father of MSD’ in USA stated MSD risks include:

  • Excess force, and / or
  • Too much repetition, and / or 
  • Bad posture – any posture you hold for long periods of time, and / or 
  • Lack of rest – might mean getting up and moving if in sedentary postures, and / or
  • Individual or organisational stress – strong correlation between stress and musculoskeletal disorders – tension – all muscles contracted in pairs – body must work harder – contracting against antagonist, which is also contracted, and / or 
  • Individual susceptibility – some people are just more susceptible to MSD
  • What are the important factors?

How long (e.g. per day) = frequency

How long without rest (e.g. without movement) = duration

How much pressure you feel under (e.g. must complete within a time) = intensity

Frequency, duration and intensity are measures of exposure that indicate whether we are likely to be harmed.

Just defining the typical working day will not define exposure.  You must also include all time using technology, including work breaks, lunch breaks, travel to & from work, home, etc. The hours and risk factors rise quickly.

The challenge for employers:

  • Work might be exacerbating an exposure related to non-work activities.
  • Workers may enter the workforce with pre-existing conditions due to long term technology use.
  • Bad postural and use habits are hard to break.
  • The above factors may tip an employee into injury more quickly.
  • What can you as an employer do?
  • Ensure that the ergonomic equipment you supply is certified to Australian Standards, i.e. quality chairs.
  • Be proactive versus re-active.  Provide ergonomic training for your staff, don’t assume that they understand how to adjust a chair for postural support – be innovative to gain the attention of all staff.
  • Screen your employees during the hiring process- do basic tests on musculoskeletal fitness (you need to beware of potential discrimination)
  • Encourage staff to report pain early – and ensure that they will they be treated sympathetically.  Early reporting is hugely important to rectify issues before they become unmanageable.
  • Give our employees confidence and knowledge to report early.
  • Establish a quick assessment process that is flexible – needs to be valid for your workplace – computers, hand held devices, etc.
  • Non Sedentary Breaks (this means move if working in sedentary postures)
  • Encourage employees to learn Touch Typing – a fantastic win – huge benefits by reducing strain to neck and wrists. 
  • Technology Etiquette – you may need to teach people good manners , i.e. don’t look at Facebook or respond to tweets when in meetings.
  • In the words of Heaton and Osmond – The Ergonomic Tsunami – it’s coming, unstoppable and will be enormous.  Doing nothing is not an option, so put a plan together today to protect your employees and your business.  Here are some simple an effective initiatives:

1. Review your assessment processes

2. Review your training

3. Review your product portfolio 

4. Review your supply partners

Good planning trumps good luck! 

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