Savvy business owners and employers are becoming increasingly proactive in preventing work-related injuries, retaining employees, and increasing workers' comfort and productivity. To compete in the marketplace and protect their most valuable resource-employees-they consult occupational therapy practitioners who specialize in workplace ergonomics. These practitioners evaluate the work environment and make practical recommendations.
Practitioners provide a wide range of workplace consultative services, such as helping employers to comply with the requirements of the American with Disabilities Act, evaluating and modifying tool and equipment design, and determining and reducing injury risk factors. For workers who have had an injury, occupational therapy practitioners can help them to return to work faster, increase their comfort, and suggest modifications to regain productivity.
Occupational therapy practitioners apply their ergonomics expertise in workplace environments ranging from white-collar offices to hospitals to manufacturing plants. "Ergonomics really crosses all aspects of employment," says Page, from workstation design in an office setting to the physical demands of industrial work. The recommendations that occupational therapy practitioners make in these work environments are equally varied and extensive, and could include advice on minimizing auditory distractions, changing the lighting, or helping a worker organize tasks so that he or she can complete a job with less stress.
Evaluations typically are done just once and, although the process can vary, it follows the same essential pattern. For example, someone working in an office who suffered a back injury outside of work and is trying to return to work might have trouble with sustained sitting. The occupational therapy practitioner would visit the work site and look at the workstation. He or she might notice a bad chair. Although the chair might be changed or adjusted, if the worker can sit only for a short time and the job requires constant sitting, a problem still exists. An occupational therapy practitioner can modify the workstation so the person can do a combination of sitting and standing, or the practitioner might recommend the use of a dynamic stand that allows the employee to work without being in a sitting position. Often, "the ability to move, take mini-breaks, or adjust a position will allow someone to still be productive in their work environment," says Page. "It's just not in your traditional 'sitting-at-your-desk' mode."