Posture and Comfortby Hugh Babington Smith
Health and safety legislation
The manager will have to work within the framework of legislation and regulation (see the topic on Health & Safety).
Understand the aim
There is so much legislation and regulation that it is sometimes difficult to remember the rationale behind it all.
When you are up to your arse in crocodiles, it is sometimes difficult to remember that your reason for being in the swamp is to drain it.
The crocodiles lie in the bureaucracy underpinning health and safety law. The skilled manager will see past the crocodiles to understand what the law is trying to achieve. With respect to posture, the aim of regulation is to reduce the risks to musculoskeletal health. There are two stages to compliance:
- Assessing risks
- Reducing risks to ‘the lowest extent reasonably practical’.
A very large plc developed its own computer workstation questionnaire for employees to fill in every six months.
When examined, it was realised that a person could reply ‘yes’ (positive) to every single question, and still be in pain or discomfort without the company knowing.
The questionnaire was achieving nothing.
The mere act of compliance should not become an end in itself.
Assessment is straightforward, documenting it equally so. To a certain extent, the amount of training necessary to be able to carry out assessments is low – it has to be, in order to spread assessments as wide as possible.
Reducing risks to posture is more complex, as you need to judge what the term ‘reasonable’ means within the context of the assessment. ‘Reasonable’ is perhaps the key word when dealing with anything affected by health and safety law; it is extremely widely used and is the way in which the law puts the burden and privilege of taking decisions onto management.
‘Reasonable’ grounds may not be health and safety related, expense being the most obvious factor to be taken into account.
Exercising judgement requires a knowledge of the way in which relevant risk factors interact. Sometimes that knowledge derives from understanding the type of work under consideration; with other risk factors, the manager may need expert knowledge in order to find an appropriate course of action.
An example of the way risk factors interrelate is shown in the diagram above (DSE = Display Screen Equipment). The regulations affecting computer users list seven areas where action should be taken to minimise risk: equipment, furniture, work environment, job design, work organisation, work methods and posture. As can be seen from the diagram (though this is not explained in the regulations), these have different characteristics and can be divided into three groups, the human, the environment and the job.
Note that just one – posture – is isolated from the rest, as it is the only one that concerns the worker’s own body. It is also different from the other factors in that posture is affected by all the others but cannot affect them.
Reducing the risks
It is your job as a manager to understand these interrelationships and judge how to use them to minimise the risk. Posture is the most difficult area to tackle because it is each and every worker’s personal choice to decide whether they actually improve their posture.