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Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards 2017 (part 3) – ergonomics in the spotlight

Improving a workplace’s ergonomics can have a positive effect on reducing physical burdens and psychosocial risks for staff, which can help older workers to stay in their roles for longer. Two of this year’s Good Practice Award winners, Continental AG and VitaS show how ergonomics can be successfully integrated into the workplace. 


Companies looking to retain older workers and reduce workplace absences have recognised the importance of ergonomics. It can help employers in all sectors to optimise their working systems and reduce physical, environmental and psychosocial risks, and in turn, reduce absenteeism and early retirement.

VitaS, a social care sector employer from Belgium, got an occupational safety and health (OSH) expert on board to carry out ergonomic assessments at its various sites to identify areas where physical burdens could be reduced, particularly for older staff.

A survey was also conducted on the use of lifting aids in nursing departments and as a result a lifting policy was developed and implemented to reduce physical risks. The data collected from the survey was also used to assess training needs. Certified instructors were then hired to train lifting coordinators and coaches to provide training to fellow employees.

VitaS is also using new technologies to improve work-life balance. An online self-scheduling scheme was introduced to allow workers greater flexibility. Older workers can also reduce their working hours, if they so wish. Intergenerational communication has also improved with younger and older staff working together to test new care-related apps on mobile devices.

This comprehensive approach involving staff of all ages has paid off, with workers reporting that they felt involved and were listened to when measures were being implemented. Ergonomic changes to equipment and training have improved the physical health of employees, and health promotion measures such as stress-management training were also well received.

Similar results have also been achieved by German automotive manufacturing company Continental AG, who are redesigning their high-risk workplaces in order to improve working conditions for all, regardless of age or gender. Continental’s workforce is ageing and by 2020 workers over the age of 50 will make up half of their workforce, so action is required now to avoid a shortage of skilled workers.

Continental established dedicated ergonomics teams to identify and assess physical and psychosocial occupational risks at all their sites. Once risks are identified, the teams use better ergonomics to redesign workplaces. Ergonomics is now integrated into business planning at every stage — prospective ergonomic assessment is now required during the design and purchasing processes for all new workplaces.

The company has also used a software documentation system to gather demographic data for all sites to create company-wide exposure databases and a collection of good practices. This can then be used for primary prevention, or to reallocate people to more suitable roles where health conditions are a factor. This can be particularly useful for workers who have undergone a period of rehabilitation and are returning to work.

The new measures introduced have reduced physical overload at Continental and increased its ability to retain older workers. The measures introduced by both Continental and VitaS are sustainable and easily transferable, and can help all companies looking to improve work organisation and increase flexibility for their staff.

Visit the Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards website to find out more about the competition, and take a look at this year’s Good Practice Award booklet to find out more about the winning and commended examples.