A+A 2015: This is how it’s done: good workplace design for good health at work

Workplace ergonomics – a central topic at the trade fair and the convention

With over 1,800 exhibitors, A+A in Düsseldorf is the world’s leading market and communication platform for occupational health and safety. From 27 to 30 October this year’s focus – both at the trade fair and the convention – will be on a central issue again: the ergonomic design of workplaces and working routines. By applying ergonomic findings, it is possible to increase output and at the same time reduce the strain on the workforce, which, in turn, leads to greater productivity. In view of current demographic developments, this is more relevant than ever before.

André Klussmann (from the ASER Institute) sums it up with the words: “Good ergonomic workplace design is an essential aspect in keeping employees at work until their regular pensionable age and thus counteracting effects such as staff shortages. Over the last few years this issue has also featured more prominently in German government policies, e.g. by expressly mentioning ‘physical and mental health’ in the German Occupational Health and Safety Act, by including the term ‘ergonomics’ in the amended Industrial Safety Regulation and by mentioning precautions for ‘substantial increases in physical stress’ in the Preventative Occupational Healthcare Regulation.”

The new Industrial Safety Regulation specifically stipulates that employers must include ergonomic considerations when defining working routines and choosing materials, tools and equipment. Such resources must be designed and organised in a way that avoids any incorrect or excessive strain which might endanger the health or safety of the workforce or, if this is not possible, reduce the strain to a minimum.

Focus on ergonomics for visitors and companies

Industrial ergonomics is nothing new, yet it is continuing to gain in importance. Michael Mohrlang, who is responsible for health and safety and therefore also for ergonomics at BMW in Munich, describes the situation as follows: “Ergonomics is an interdisciplinary science that impacts most areas of our working lives. Ergonomic findings continue to be relevant, irrespective of social developments such as demographic change. Yet demographic change does highlight the importance of implementing the findings that have been gained over a period of decades. The BMW Group therefore continually endeavours to apply ergonomic principles on a comprehensive scale, covering all facets of working routines, whether it’s production, office work or integration management.”

It is getting increasingly important to ensure the demographic alignment of workplace design. This can be seen at Continental AG where Klaus-Dieter Wendt is head of Ergonomics: “Our target for 2020 is the demographic alignment of workplaces for 50% of our workforce. To achieve this goal, we have analysed and rated all existing production workplaces in Germany under a strain documentation system and have started to rate all workplaces which are either new or which need to be redesigned. This is giving us the ergonomically relevant data for each workplace, so that we can take precautions to ensure its demographic alignment and to make it manageable for both men and women without causing any excessive strain.”

However, to create good ergonomic working conditions, an employer needs to do more than provide the right technicalities. Successful companies are marked by a clear health and safety culture and a commitment to good, sustainable working conditions. Klaus Tech, head of Health and Safety at Linde Gas AG, has been coming to A+A for many years now: “At our company,” he says, “we’ve defined health, safety and environmental protection as fundamental principles for all our business activities. Where health and safety are concerned, we are keen to ensure clearly visible leadership, personal responsibility for one’s actions and direct responsibilities at all corporate levels. We see it as one of our core tasks to provide safe and healthy working conditions for everyone who works for us. One decisive factor is that our staff are well motivated and that they receive training."

Good ergonomic working conditions and resources are, of course, extremely relevant – not only in industry, but also in public services. This is reflected at Munich City Council where Johannes Thallmair is head of Health and Safety, another A+A visitor who has been coming to the trade fair for many years: “Over the last few years there have been some clear and positive developments in ergonomics, not just on the manufacturers’ side, but also with regard to its acceptance and its importance within offices. This applies to Munich, in particular: being a fairly large local council, we need to make provision for an increasingly older workforce and design our workplaces accordingly.”

Ergonomics at the A+A Congress

The A+A Congress will reflect the interest among visitors and companies on the subject of ergonomics, while also showcasing new trends and developments. For the first time, each morning and afternoon will start with a keynote talk for all visitors this year. One of the speakers will be Prof. Ralph Bruder, PhD, from the Institute of Ergonomics at the Technical University of Darmstadt, with a presentation entitled “Humane Workplace Design – Productivity – Prevention”: “Ergonomics plays a key role in mastering digitisation and demographic change.”

A comprehensive and highly practical introduction to the subject will be given in a series of presentations called “Ergonomics – from Theory to Practice”, organised by the Commission for Occupational Health and Safety and Standardisation (KAN). Each presentation will be held from a different perspective (KAN, Siemens AG, Robert Bosch GmbH, Continental AG), showing ways to ensure the ergonomic organisation of work and design of workplaces.

Another major series at the convention will be on the subject of office and production ergonomics.

One event will be specially dedicated to the construction industry, bearing the title “Age-Appropriate Workplace Design in the Construction Industry”. The construction industry, in particular, is finding it increasingly difficult to meet its shortage of skilled employees. To ensure sustainable performance and quality, it is therefore all the more important to adjust working conditions in a way that suits the requirements of an ageing workforce.

Raising awareness through “ergonomics scouts”

Aspects of ergonomics, however, will also feature in other series, not just in specially dedicated presentations on ergonomics. The “Day for Health and Safety Officers”, for instance, will focus specially on ergonomics. H & S officers are now assuming a major role in the organisation of health and safety in industry and will be involved even further in the future. They will also receive more training to cover new areas of responsibilities. On this occasion a talk will be given, among others, by Markus Bruch, PhD, from RWE on the training of health and safety officers to become so-called “ergonomics scouts” at RWE. In particular, the training seeks to bring ergonomic expertise into a given department as well as identifying ergonomic design requirements and raising awareness to such issues among the workforce.

Theme parks: Workplace Design and Corporate Health

Ergonomic workplace design will be given special prominence in Hall 10 at the A+A trade fair, under the heading of “Health at Work”. Also, situated right next to the “Health and Safety Meeting Point”, the central joint pavilion of non-commercial players in Occupational Health and Safety, will be the two exhibition areas “Corporate Health” and “Workplace Design”. “Corporate Health” has been created specially for vendors and organisations in the health sector. It will include occupational healthcare providers, private healthcare professionals and a range of products and services for the prevention of addiction.

The theme park “Workplace Design” will feature exhibitors of ergonomically optimised workplaces with opportunities for visitors to test and compare various workplace solutions. The area also provides opportunities to engage the help of professional advisors in comparing and evaluating dynamic seating systems made by various manufacturers.

The two areas “Workplace Design” and “Corporate Health” will have a joint programme of short practical talks, panel discussions, presentations and discussions (all with German-English interpreting).

This year’s A+A will, for the first time, include guided tours that are specially aimed at the needs of works councils and staff councils.

The programme and the presentations are organised by the German Federal Association for Occupational Safety and Health (Basi) in cooperation with two non-commercial partners: the Centre for Health and Society at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and the Association of Ergonomics at the Technical University of Dresden.

The ergonomic design of workplaces, facilities, tools and machinery helps to ensure safe and healthy long-term employment for the individual. With this in mind, A+A 2015 will present the right systems as well as innovative products and services, showing how ergonomic principles can best be implemented in practice. There will be substantial interest among visitors. Last year, more than 20,000 visitors among over 63,000 took a specific interest in ergonomic workplace design.