Even though the benefits of staff buy-in are great, it is not always easy to achieve. Many times, the most vocal staff members are the most resistant to the implementation of new procedures. The challenge to management is to lead the staff in such as way that they recognize their own vested interest in the solutions.
Ergonomics and Human Resources
Even in the best circumstances, animal care is a difficult job, not unlike athletes playing a physically demanding game. During an initial interview of a prospective employee, questions that would likely elicit information about a person’s disability are clearly a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) position on pre employment screening of candidates, however, an employer may describe the physical requirements of the position and ask if the applicant is able to satisfy these requirements. The applicant may also be asked to demonstrate hows/he would perform the tasks.5
It is important to realize that workers are very adept at accomplishing physically demanding tasks in spite of outward appearances to the contrary. Reasonable accommodations must be made to enable an otherwise qualified candidate to perform the essential functions of a job, unless they would create undue hardship.6 A complete redesign and retrofit of a washroom to accommodate a wheelchair bound employee would represent an undue hardship for the employer. However, installation of a small raised platform allowing the employee to be at the appropriate height for accessing existing equipment would be a reasonable expense assuming the employee could perform the function at the raised height. If you think reasonable accommodations are expensive, they are cheap compared to lost productivity and medical costs associated with a worker’s compensation claim.More importantly, implementation of reasonable accommodations shows a real commitment to providing a healthy work environment.
In typical staffing needs calculations, the obvious variables are usually included like legitimate leave time, e.g., vacation, sick time, holidays, etc. A thorough evaluation of missed time due to on-the-job injuries should also be included. Costs for overtime and lost productivity when staff are out for extended periods can run high. Ergonomic improvements that reduce time-lost injuries can save a considerable amount of money, not to mention protecting employees from unnecessary harm.
Ergonomic improvements on the animal care “playing field” are not an“all or nothing” venture. Small changes can have large and lasting positive impact on worker comfort,morale, retention, and productivity. Each of us has a responsibility to ensure a safe workplace. The trick is to find that perfect balance between Offense and Defense. Let the games begin!
- “Musculoskeletal disorders and days away from work in 2007.” US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Editor’s Desk, December 2, 2008.
- “A Critical Review of Epidemiologic Evidence for Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders of the Neck, Upper Extremity, and Low Back.” NIOSH Publication No. 97-141, July 1997.
- Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources. 1996. Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Washington, DC, National Academy Press.
- McGarry, M., M.J. Huerkamp, A. Pesek and J. Percifield. "Design considerations for mouse holding rooms." Animal Lab News, Nov/Dec 2009. 11-16.
- Enforcement Guidance: Preemployment Disability- Related Questions and Medical Examinations. US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. EEOC Notice 915.002. 10/10/95. http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/preemp.html
- Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12117, 12201-12213 (1994) (codified as amended).
Stacy LeBlanc, MS, MBA, CMAR, Research Department Administrator at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, has participated in design through occupancy of over 300,000gsf of new and renovated vivarium space. She has participated in ergonomic evaluations of animal facilities including implementation of solutions and training. email@example.com.
Jerry Percifield, AIA is a Principal with Lord, Aeck,& Sargent Architects, Inc., Atlanta, GA. He has worked in the field for over 30 years and designed over 2,000,000 square feet of animal facilities. He currently serves as the Director of the Science and Technology studio at Lord Aeck Sargent Architects. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael J. Huerkamp, DVM, DACLAM has 26 years postdoctoral experience in laboratory animal medicine. He is the director of the animal resources program at Emory University where he manages facilities comprising over 155,000 gsf and a staff of 78 in support of over 300 scientists using animals in research. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Mike McGarry, Ph.D. of MCG Consulting has over 35 years developing facilities and directing laboratory animal programs at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Mayo Clinic Arizona, and Arizona State University.He also has done basic and preclinical research in a variety of lab animal species reported in over 90 peer-reviewed publications. firstname.lastname@example.org.