The AOK Baden-Württemberg health insurance scheme, one of the largest statutory health insurance schemes in Germany with 3.9 million insured persons, offers its corporate customers a wide range of services in the field of company health promotion. They range from training programs and courses concerning movement to preventing addictions and providing healthy nutrition and even offering advice for corporate reintegration management teams. The AOK experts for corporate health management (BGM), who accompany and support this process in corporations at a regional level, also face questions about the subject of ergonomics more and more frequently during their visits to firms. The questions do not just come from the administrative department, but from production areas too. They can only make relevant statements here if they have a basic knowledge of work design that takes into account ergonomic principles and opportunities to assess the work stations with regard to any health risks. At least 40 BGM coordinators from all over the state of Baden-Württemberg made use of a workshop organized by the AOK and the German MTM Association entitled “Ergonomics at the work station” in order to learn how to “see” and gain information about suitable ergonomic tools.
The contact between AOK Baden-Württemberg and the MTM company materialized at the Corporate Health Convention, the European Specialist Fair for the Corporate Promotion of Health and Demographics held in Stuttgart in May 2014. Dr. Steffen Rast struck a chord with the specialist audience with his lecture entitled “Productive and healthy: work that takes into account the aging process – what should be done?” and aroused the curiosity of Stephanie Junk from the Health Promotion/Corporate Health Management department at AOK Baden-Württemberg. “We want to continue developing as consultants and extend our ergonomic expertise in the interests of our corporate customers and naturally all our insured persons,” the graduate sociologist explained. She added, “It’s important to have a systematic approach for our BGM work and this is missing in many corporations. We’ve found a competent partner with regard to both aspects in the German MTM Association, which has a great deal of experience with manufacturing industry and handles the issue in an extremely well-founded manner.”
Opening eyes for the working conditions too
The aim of the workshop was to open the eyes of the BGM coordinators – who included social, sports and nutrition experts and teachers – to the situation at work stations, i.e. the working conditions, and opportunities for making improvements – and communicate well-founded knowledge in the field of ergonomics. “Only those who can “see” are capable of providing advice and highlighting the connection between work design and health risks to managers at corporations,” Dr. Steffen Rast, the workshop director, declared. During the course of the day, the participants used video recordings to pragmatically tackle the issue of where the ergonomic bottleneck was in the example on display and which workloads or subsequent illnesses could be expected in employees.
Launching an ergonomics process in the corporations
Ergonomics is now an issue in every sector. “However, too little is being invested in improvement measures,” Rast said. “It’s also difficult to tell a corporate manager when his investment might pay off,” Rast added in response to a question from the audience. “Many corporations don’t have an ergonomics register. Often people don’t even know which workloads are relevant at a particular work station and how they might affect the health of employees working there in order to draw up a comparative profile. Many consultancy projects at the German MTM Association have demonstrated that it makes sense to launch a proper ergonomics process at corporations. To do this, companies need a standardized tool, like the EAWS (Ergonomics Assessment Work Sheet) used by MTM, a method, which enables corporations to take action in assessing physical workloads at work stations in an all-round and long-term manner.
There is also a need for employees who regularly use this tool – Rast quoted the example of the VW Group at this point, which will train more than 1,500 employees around the globe in using EAWS. Last but not least, a control and feedback cycle is necessary. Suitable contact partners or fellow campaigners in implementing an ergonomic process are best found through a workshop, according to the MTM expert. Potential participants, who can contribute their point of view, are managers in the human resources, corporate health management, health and safety at work departments – but also company physicians, work planners, design engineers and – ideally from the very outset – employee representatives. “As for other issues, experience teaches us that middle management, that is to say, team leaders and master craftsmen, have a very good gut instinct about the ergonomic quality of work,” Rast added.
“It therefore makes sense to use precisely these people to assess work stations with the EAWS analysis tool and underpin a gut instinct with facts and figures.” The MTM expert recommended that his listeners should in turn recommend that their contact partners within corporations should view processes related to ergonomic quality during the planning phase if at all possible and tackle issues with an eye to the future, instead of correcting them at a later stage – which involves a far greater financial outlay. “MTM offers exactly this forward-looking approach – starting with the product and involving the process and even including the factory itself.” The goal is to establish a kind of early warning system for ergonomic workloads and prevent associated health risks at work stations. During the feedback discussions at the end, the BGM coordinators debated issues like how much ergonomic expertise they themselves require for their work. The spectrum here ranged from pure background knowledge to an interest in an in-depth ergonomics seminar and EAWS training at the MTM Academy. The cooperation between AOK Baden-Württemberg and the German MTM Association will be continued at this point. Joint consultancy projects, for example, are being discussed.
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