If you’re looking to prevent warehouse workplace injuries, an ergonomically designed workplace and structured ergonomics training for employees is a great place to start. However, if your injury prevention program begins and ends right there, you're missing out on a key strategy that has been proven to reduce workplace injuries and the expenses that go with them: Physical Abilities Testing.
Why Training Doesn’t Work
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine illustrates why ergonomics alone is not enough in physically demanding warehouse jobs. In this study 2,534 employees and 134 supervisors were thoroughly trained in safe lifting and handling techniques for the purpose of reducing lower back injuries. Over the six-year life of the study, researchers found that ergonomics training was only marginally effective: trained employees had comparable rates of lower back injuries to those in the untrained control group. In fact, the only measurable improvement in the trained group was increased knowledge of safe working behavior – knowledge that, unfortunately, was not put into practice.
This study doesn't mean ergonomics isn't important – it is crucial to employee well-being. What it does show is that it training alone is not an effective strategy in reducing workplace injuries. Some movements and tasks simply can’t be modified, and unhealthy work habits can be nearly impossible for experienced employees to break.
Consider depalletizing. The most common approaches to breaking down a pallet are a layer-by-layer or pyramid system with the ergonomic pros and cons depending on specific load weights, dimensions, and accessibility. The layer-by-layer approach can cause shoulder, back, and knee injuries if heavy packages don't slide easily off the pallet. The pyramid approach can cause undue strain on the shoulders, back, and knees if employees have to reach across empty pallet space to access products. While employees can be trained to identify the best depalletizing technique for a given situation, without constant oversight most revert to their personal "go-to" method rather than the most ergonomically correct one.
But Wait, There’s More:
Not only does training provide a poor return on investment in reducing workplace injuries, but many of the studies touting the benefits of ergonomic interventions are now considered invalid because so few subjects exhibited the key characteristics required to participate in the first place. In other words, researchers were training people who weren't a good match for their jobs to begin with. Fact is, if a person lacks the strength, agility, and stamina to perform their warehouse work safely and efficiently, no amount of correction or assistance will be effective.
This is why investing in pre employment Physical Abilities Training (PAT) is an important piece of the workplace safety puzzle for physically demanding industries like warehousing. PAT evaluates employment candidates for key, job-specific characteristics they'll need to meet the physical demands of the job, giving you the means to hire only those who are physically capable of safe, efficient workplace performance – and thus making the most of your investment in ergonomics and safety training.
Studies Provide Support for PAT
Properly conducted and peer-reviewed studies done using PAT combined with employee wellness programs for grocery warehouse workers showed them to be effective at both reducing injury rates and lowering direct and indirect injury costs. A University of Illinois study showed an ROI of $18 for every $1 spent on PAT for physical plant employees, many of whom worked in a warehouse environment.
Although it's important to have statistics on your side before making wide-scale changes in hiring protocol, common sense also says that candidates who are physically capable of doing the job will be the most safe, efficient, and productive employees. Physical Abilities Testing takes the guesswork out of determining which candidates have what it takes to thrive in your workplace, as well as which ones would struggle with job demands, subsequently increasing risk of costly workplace accidents and injuries.