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Ergonomics Consultant | Workplace Injuries: Stories not Statistics

Stories instead of Statistics – Injuries in Workplaces

15 Feb 2018 Katrina James

It’s easy for human stories to become lost when looking at safety statistics. Graphs, pie charts, infograms and pictograms are commonly used to impart information. From the shopfloor to the board room we hear, “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Sometimes numbers tell the whole story and sometimes they don’t. I know one method always works: when workers have an opportunity to tell their own stories. If you are a manager or executive used to safety statistics, you’ve probably felt yourself tune out. You possibly don’t know the real stories behind the numbers.

I’ve seen workers who suffered serious life impacting injuries tell their story on the speaker circuit. Talking to rooms full of workers, managers and business leaders, these speakers are powerful, moving, and deliver important messages. But these stories don’t belong to your employees.

I strongly believe more power and information come from the stories within your business.

I’m an ergonomist, so was asked to have a conversation with a group of apprentices about why work health and safety mattered to them. A young man spoke up and said he didn’t want to be like his dad. He described dad coming home from work each afternoon, falling into a chair and not getting up. He saw his dad in pain: “He was buggered”. Long days of physical work wreaked havoc with his body. His dad was only 45. This young man wanted a better way to work, so as not to end up like his dad.

Stories like this are sad. After years of work to support his family, this proud man was ‘buggered’. I call this the ‘dad in the chair’ phenomenon. Many will recognise it from their own families and friends. We live in a society where the retirement age keeps extending, but men like this won’t keep up.

In my experience, first as an occupational health nurse and now as an ergonomist, I have seen manufacturing workers go to great lengths to hide their pain. I’ve heard them talk about concerns of losing the job, letting the team down and letting themselves down. They are exhausted at the end of the day – body at breaking point. Once anxious about the possibility of losing the job, family relationships start to suffer. I’ve seen depression set in from exhaustion and social isolation follows. Often it is too shameful for the person to share or ask for help. After all – they just want to work, feel useful and provide for their spouse and family. These are the ‘after hours’ statistics, the information and stories not captured in meeting room presentations.

My own physiotherapist asked; was I worried this might happen to me. I said no – I changed my career as a hospital based nurse because I could feel the physical strain on my body. I knew I’d be physically and mentally broken by middle age, perhaps younger.

It’s time for the stories to be heard. It is time to stop asking humans to keep up with the inhumane speed of machines. It is time to stop improving the bottom line by asking more of workers who are already struggling. I’ve seen companies transformed by taking greater care of worker’s health and wellbeing. I’m proud to have worked for them.

If your people are the greatest asset of your manufacturing business, look for solutions and create a vision to change how you treat them. My experience tells me your workers have the ideas to improve their workplace and your business. I help businesses build platforms and create communication channels that are open, non-threatening and respectful – allow them to be heard.

If you run a manufacturing business, there are stories behind your statistics. There are workers who have been injured and off work for weeks or months. Discover their story and ask the management team to get to know them.

Think Ergonomics can provide guidance so your business can hear the ‘after hours’ stories. Let’s ensure there is no more hiding the real story in statistics.