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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Developing healthy habits

JACKIE BROWN-HAYSOM takes a look at ACC’s self-management programme for preventing work-related pain and discomfort.

When ACC launched its HabitAt-Work programme in mid-2006 it was hailed as a world-first – an online interactive tool to teach people how to self-manage work-related discomfort.

But the initiative was intended to be far more than a self-help strategy. As part of the corporation’s Preventing and Managing Discomfort, Pain and Injury (DPI) programme it aimed to change thinking around so-called overuse injuries by encouraging workers to deal immediately with low-level discomfort rather than ignoring it until it turned to pain.

A year after its launch ACC commissioned Research New Zealand to interview a small sample of HabitAtWork users – four OHS consultants, four OHS managers from the industrial sector, and four from office-based workplaces – to see how the programme was being received by those in its intended markets. The results were mixed – asked to give it a mark out of ten, one office-based manager awarded a perfect score, but others, predominantly from the industrial sector, rated it as low as three. Some workplaces said they were making extensive use of the programme, incorporating it in all staff inductions and retraining of existing staff, as well as posting it on the intranet, but others had merely copied a few of the diagrams for use in their own training programmes.

The study also identified some issues with the original format – areas where more information was needed, and problems with flexibility and ease of use.

New format

Version 2 of HabitAtWork, launched earlier this year, has set out to address those shortcomings. The content remains similar to the original, with some additions such as new pain management tips, but the format has changed to be more user-friendly.

ACC programme manager Chris Polaczuk says workplaces can now tailor the content to their particular needs.

“There is a full website dedicated to HAW that can either be accessed online or loaded onto a company’s intranet,” he says. “For those who choose the intranet option there is the ability to fully customise the material, adding the company’s own branding, look and feel.”

New e-learning tools within the website have been designed for easy incorporation into existing induction and training programmes, with a number of self-help tools providing employees with step-by-step instructions to help them assess their own workstations and find the right exercises to relieve muscle tension.

The 2007 study identified lack of computer access as a major barrier for those using the industrial version of the software, but Polaczuk says the new version deals with this by providing a range of downloadable banners, posters and workbooks.

“Hundreds of companies now use HabitAtWork in these many ways,” he says. “A number of them have customised it to their own look and feel, including a coalition of all the major banks, and even ACC itself. As it’s on the web, there are many users from overseas as well. It really is world leading – there’s nothing else like it available for free.”

HAW in the workplace

So how do HAW users feel about the programme?

Sue Tierney, a consultant occupational therapist with Ergoworks Waikato Ltd, is an enthusiast.

She uses the material in a number of workplaces, but says the way it has been implemented in a local Inland Revenue Department office is particularly effective.

“I find it hugely advantageous because it is so pertinent to that environment,” she says.

“We use it in induction sessions with new employees and in on-the-job training, but at the IRD we also use it to train what we call early intervention officers (EIOs). Staff members volunteer for this role and are trained to be the eyes and ears of the occupational health advisor.”

With more than 500 staff on site, most of them using computer-based workstations, Tierney’s weekly visit as occupational health advisor was not enough to ensure all discomfort issues were dealt with promptly. In between times the early intervention officers identify situations where their coworkers may be at risk of muscle fatigue, and are the first port of call when someone experiences discomfort or pain.

“The EIOs need to know what the risk factors and early intervention strategies are, so I use HAW as the basis of their training. It is a very proactive approach to discomfort and pain, and it fosters self-management.”

One-on-one training

Tierney was herself trained in the DPI programme about the time she began working with the IRD, so it seemed logical to implement it at the site. She finds it a useful tool for one-on-one interventions because she can show workers stretching exercises, workstation assessment tips and information about sustained postures, confident in the knowledge that they will be able to refer back to the material as the need arises.

“The upgraded programme is really good for this. It has a lot more information about how to set up all the equipment in your workstation, for instance it goes into more detail about good and poor posture, and includes more examples.

“When I go through it with individual workers, I show them where to find things and how to do the exercises and so on, then they can access it online anytime to remind themselves.”

Tierney says the IRD’s early intervention officers also make ongoing use of the programme to extend their skill base and build on their initial training. As a result she has seen them become more confident to intervene when they identify potential problem areas.

“One of the best things about the programme is that all the material is in layman’s terms, with plenty of practical examples that staff can relate to. It’s very relevant to the work they are doing.”

The programme’s emphasis on self-management has changed the way people deal with discomfort, she says.

“There has definitely been a change in this area. Before people would just put up with it, but now they know they can do something about it for themselves instead of waiting for the occupational health advisor to come around.

“There is a better understanding about the importance of early reporting too.”

PostShop staff

Russell Morrison, the safety and wellbeing consultant for New Zealand Post’s retail arm, says his team implemented HabitAtWork in June last year.

“We had been having some issues around neck and back pain,” he says. “There are a lot of quite different risk factors among our retail workers, including cash counting for Kiwibank and handling parcels that can weigh as much as 10 or 20kg.”

Manual handling training had been an integral part of the job for some time, but workstation issues had not previously come in for a lot of attention, Morrison says. He picked up on the banking sector’s version of HAW, although the variety of tasks handled by NZ Post’s 1750 counter staff meant some aspects of it were not fully applicable.

“A lot of banks have their counter staff sitting on chairs, for instance, but we don’t use chairs because of the need to move around when handling parcels.”

Despite that Morrison says the programme has been great, with the stretching exercises and early reporting regime steadily gaining acceptance. HAW has become a regular topic in all-staff safety briefings, and in monthly OHS updates. With hundreds of branches, ranging from large outlets to those with only three or four staff, the self-management aspect of HabitAtWork has particular significance.

“We keep pressuring people about early reporting. It is really frustrating when someone comes to you with a sore shoulder and says they’ve had it for six months. After that much time you can’t be sure whether it is work-related or not.”

Morrison is proud of the programme’s successes, however.

“We recently had a woman come to us with an early report of a sore wrist. Because we got onto it quickly we were able to investigate and found it was all about the way she was working. We came up with some suggestions to change her technique and now it’s much better.”

NZ Post is now rolling out HAW to other parts of its business, including sorting centres and delivery staff.

“You can use the basic ideas to identify reasons for pain or discomfort, whatever sort of work you are doing,” Morrison says.


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