Have we created a culture of torture?

Don’t ask workers to do anything
you wouldn’t do.

How much does your company spend on safety, ergonomics, automation, and lean practices? It’s all intended to address injury rates, wellness, productivity and quality right? Yet companies are still posting job offers that state, upfront, that workers will be required to stand 90% of the shift and this one associates it with the company culture. What could possibly drive business to put that statement right in the job posting if it isn’t a huge problem for the companies [and workers]? Lets look at the numbers.

Over $100B is spent annually in the US alone on back pain.

Over $135B is spent annually in the US alone on chronic fatigue.

The average 1,000 employee business spends $250,000 a year on absenteeism and another $775,000 on preabsenteeism like longer breaks, early quits, lost cognitive focus, and finding places to lean every few minutes.

Its a well known fact that governments use standing FOR torture. But if we address the simple causes, it will impact all of those initiatives, quite decisively. Though the instances of musculoskeletal disorders, chronic fatigue, heart disease, inflammation and diabetes originate from various factors, 90M US workers are standing at work and many stand 90% of an 8-10 or 12 hour shift. This amounts to a significant form of unintended torture, especially over a long career. Consider the effects over every standing industry [but offices] and you see the systemic root problems and runaway costs of risk, healthcare and the shifting paradigms in career direction by younger workers. I mean, who wouldn’t love to apply for this dream job that tells you right up front, “you will be miserable here”? Many labor jobs already send a message that the applicant must be tough enough to work there and that the applicant better leave “complaining” at home.

Before mass production, people worked in manual labor too, but all jobs were manual labor back then. Back then, people performed a wide range of movements and tasks to produce the handful of products they sold locally. The day Ford hit the switch on the first assembly line, we began a culture of unrealized torture and business has fought ever since to solve it with band aids. We keep putting our brightest desk workers on it. Local farmers called exhaustion “a hard day’s work” and it really was. But as their children took jobs statically standing and performing repetitious tasks, these hard working older generations still called that resulting fatigue, a hard day’s work. The elders simply accused the younger generation of being “soft” in their “easy” factory jobs. Sound familiar? It should. It’s why we see less and less younger people choosing labor jobs. It’s a death spiral that goes on and on and on. All because we stopped thinking for ourselves and starting depending on self anointed specialists for everything in the same businesses we were smart enough to create in the first place. The moral; never under estimate what you know!

Entire industries have now been built around addressing the problems resulting from static standing in the workplace but not one second has been spent on “why”. We automated processes because we needed more, and faster, than humans could produce instead of looking at why humans were dying on their their feet. As we continue to automate, we have less workers, standing longer times, handling more output, than ever before. So, we create safety initiatives, positions and departments that cover everything from reporting accidents to prevention, yet there is not one single initiative regarding balance and stability in repetitious standing, reaching and lifting. Lean initiatives were developed to improve productivity, followed closely by ergonomics to improve the workspace around the worker. Yet today, in 2020, companies still place disclaimer warnings on job postings rather than identify and correct the causes of fatigue and pain in standing. In fact, the most recent research still attributes chronic fatigue to lifestyle choices and sleep deprivation. So, we are all to believe that it is more likely that fatigue in millions of workers results from staying up to late and eating fast food than the fact that they spend 90% of their shift standing.

We refused to buy that in our manufacturing business so we used common sense to design and built a fixture to help ourselves. By applying and combining known and proven principles across many disciplines, we discovered that when humans stop to stand and perform a task, we experience postural sway as our body tries to remain upright in gravity. Within moments of standing, our tendons, muscles and fascia begin to tense in continuous movements to keep us balanced 5ft above the base of our feet. This subconscious effort uses more energy than we realize and as the fatigue builds, discomfort begins. This discomfort pulls at the our focus because we now begin to think of relief in addition to the complex and often dangerous task. Office ergonomics suggest that standing desk users, go for a walk in the parking lot or sit in a chair when they reach that point. But the workers in every other industry, who have NOTHING to help stabilize sway, like a chair, simply lock their knees and keep right on reaching and lifting. They knew up front that the jobs demand standing. Think cashiers, machinists, assembly, nurses, surgeons, customer service, etc. But just like dead lifting, repetitious reach/lift of even light weights with the knees locked, causes higher lower back torque.

“This is how humans stand right?” No, it doesn’t have to be. Where is it written that humans cannot flex the knees in standing with a little support to lean into?? The benefits of controling sway in standing and proper hip hinge in reach/lift, have been missed by the specialized industries we created to help our workers. Unfortunately, this expansive rush to mass produce, resulted in mass office jobs as well. Those tasked with addressing safety, productivity and quality, never had to stand for 90% of their shift. If they did, this problem would have been resolved before two toolmakers did it in 2016.

Take some time to think about your workers and the simple solution of providing balance and stability when they need it. Building the strength to stand with positive shin angle takes a little time to acclimate and management has to engage the workers to participate. But when they do, the workers will have better circulation behind the knees which improves their health and focus. They will gain strength to stand without locking their knees which will reduce torque in their lower back. And finally, they will stand comfortably which reduces risk, lost time and turnover while improving engagement, productivity and quality of work. It’s a win win.

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