Independent and with a sound medical grounding
Back pain is the number one medical complaint. An average of 2.82 sick days – and thus the majority of them – are attributed to musculoskeletal complaints. One cause of this high illness rate is work benches that do not meet ergonomic standards. This situation is unacceptable for both companies and their employees. The former lose lots of money due to production downtime, while the latter pay the price with their health. State-of-the-art work bench systems can offer a helping hand, but which products really do meet ergonomic requirements? Aktion Gesunder Rücken (AGR) e.V. (the Campaign for Healthy Backs) puts them to the test. So far, only one supplier has been up to scratch.
Which aspects are important for a back-friendly environment? The Campaign for Healthy Backs has been dedicated to preventing back pain for over 20 years. The not-for-profit organisation pools information about the causes of pain, how to prevent it and treatment options, and makes it available to everyone, drawing on the latest data and scientific findings from its many thousands of cooperation partners in the medical sector. Over 30 medical associations, with approx. 150,000 doctors and therapists, form a unique network that has no equal worldwide. It includes the Professional Association for Orthopaedics and Trauma Surgery (Berufsverband für Orthopädie und Unfallchirurgie), the Association of German Back Schools (Bundesverband deutscher Rückenschulen) and the Association of German State-Insurance Accredited Doctors (Deutsche Kassenarztverband). “We take a multi-disciplinary approach, because what an orthopaedic doctor may consider healthy for your back might not win the approval of a physiotherapist, for example. We think it’s important to combine these different perspectives so as to filter out the aspects of back health that are broadly accepted,” explains Detlef Detjen, Managing Director of the AGR.
An important part of this work is the AGR “Certified & recommended” seal of approval. In practice, medical and therapeutic experts from a wide range of specialities work together to draw up criteria for assessing the ergonomic credentials of products. An independent panel of experts then tests products from every aspect of life against these criteria. The products range from car seats and garden furniture to shoes and office equipment. Any products that meet these high requirements receive the “Certified & recommended” seal of approval from the AGR. Detjen emphasises that companies are not permitted to join the association. “This means there can be no question of our work being influenced by economic considerations.” As a result, the seal has received several awards, including from the German consumer magazine “ÖKO-TEST”, and has been cited in case-law as a positive example of what transparent and independent product testing can look like.
Industry – awareness of ergonomics still lacking
Alongside everyday items for personal use, recent years have increasingly seen the AGR turn its attention to certifying working environments. The spotlight has fallen on industrial work benches in particular. “While awareness of the ergonomic office workstation has grown considerably, there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to industrial work benches,” says ergonomics expert Detjen. For example, many production facilities often use chairs and tables that have been deemed no longer fit for purpose in office environments. “That’s a false economy. If you compare the cost of an ergonomic work bench with those incurred when an employee is absent due to back pain, it is obvious that ergonomics is a worthwhile investment for companies.” However, many buyers and production planners don’t know what matters most in terms of back-friendly industrial work benches. The AGR has therefore drawn up a catalogue of criteria for certifying suitable products and giving companies guidance when it comes to procurement. “What is special about ergonomic work bench systems is their extremely high adaptability,” Detjen explains. Electrical adjustment options and a modular building kit system optimise working processes, extend the range of potential uses and provide flexibility. A perfectly arranged working environment consists of ergonomic work benches and chairs, lighting systems, work bench mats and tools. All this helps reduce reaching distances, optimise lighting, promote a sit-stand dynamic and make it easy to adapt equipment to suit the physical characteristics of different staff members. For purchasers, the AGR seal provides reassurance that the certified products meet these criteria. item is so far the only supplier of industrial work bench systems to have received this independent seal for its Work Bench System.
One supplier is ahead of all the rest
For the ergonomics specialists at item, the top reputation of the AGR seal was the key motivating factor in submitting the company’s Work Bench System for certification. “We systematically put people at the heart of our considerations right from the design stage of our work benches,” explains Marius Geibel, Product Manager for the Work Bench System at item. “Our aim in achieving AGR certification is to have our ergonomic developments recognised and scientifically confirmed by an independent authority.” There followed a stringent testing procedure. “Before the actual testing, a medical expert who is a member of a relevant association assesses each application to rate the chances of the product receiving certification. That’s how we separate the wheat from the chaff,” says Detjen. If the pre-test assessor gives the go-ahead, the next step is the actual testing. “An important aspect of this is that the tests are not conducted by the AGR itself, but rather exclusively by medical specialists appointed by the trade associations,” he explains. Companies have to present their products to a top-flight judging panel and make them available for practical testing. As Geibel recalls: “It was like a casting audition. After presenting our work bench systems, we were questioned intensively.” Besides the height-adjustment options on the item benches, the committee also examined the ergonomic positioning of the accessories. All the necessary workpieces, materials and tools have to be arranged so they are in the employee’s immediate handling area, thereby eliminating the need to twist the body, overstretch or adopt extreme positions. However, safety aspects such as stability and DIN standards were also taken into consideration.
Ultimately, the medical experts were all agreed that the item work benches met every requirement important for ergonomic working. This makes item the only work bench system supplier to have so far been certified by the AGR. As AGR expert Detlef Detjen says, “item is a very good example of how ergonomic principles can be implemented perfectly in the workplace.”
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Date: 03 April 2019
Image 1: Certified work bench
Image 2: Handling area
Image 3: Detlef Detjen
Caption 1: The award-winning item Work Bench System
Caption 2: Everything in reach – state-of-the-art work benches are notable for keeping accessories within ergonomic reach of employees
Caption 3: Detlef Detjen is Managing Director of Aktion Gesunder Rücken (AGR) e.V. (the Campaign for Healthy Backs).