The first doctoral student to graduate from COEH's ergonomics program at Berkeley, Air Force Major Edward Klinenberg, finished his degree in 1994, just as the Air Force was considering how to implement ergonomics on a large scale.
The Department of Defense (DOD) and the Air Force had looked at their workers' compensation costs and, like other large industrial organizations, had found that about two-thirds of their reported illnesses were coming from back strains and sprains, carpal tunnel syndrome, upper extremity disorders, and other problems related to ergonomics.
As the newly minted ergonomics consultant for the Air Force, Klinenberg was assigned to help address this problem. He served on the working group that developed a comprehensive DOD ergonomics policy, promulgated in February, 1997. Having such a policy underscores the importance of ergonomics and "drives all the services to institute ergonomics as the way to do business," he says.
Klinenberg also successfully advocated for an Air Force policy, which took effect this year in March, and he may represent the DOD when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) holds hearings as part of that agency's effort to promulgate a national ergonomics standard.
Systematic Program Needed
When Klinenberg started his assignment, the Air Force had "a few independent efforts around the country, but nothing really coordinated," he recalls. "Information didn't get cross-fed, and there was no centralized training. From my military background and my Berkeley experience, I knew we had to come up with a systematic program." For the next three years, Klinenberg and his team of health and safety professionals worked with outside contractors and multiple Air Force commands, responsible for 500,000 employees worldwide, to develop a large-scale, integrated program tailored to Air Force needs.
The program, known as PREMIER (Preventing Musculoskeletal Illnesses through Ergonomics), combines worksite analysis, training and education, medical management, and hazard prevention and control, with an emphasis on reducing risks in routine hazardous tasks. It provides structured guidance for identifying specific hazardous tasks and customizing solutions based on proven strategies described in a database that grows as more information is added.
To engage employees, Klinenberg's team introduced interactive computer training materials. To help individual Air Force installations focus their efforts, the team developed tools for screening, assessing, and managing ergonomic risks. Klinenberg also worked with the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine to develop specialized ergonomics training for Air Force bioenvironmental engineers, Public Health Officers, and occupational medicine residents.
One key tool, the Job Requirements/Physical Demands (JR/PD) survey, "zeros in on whether jobs suspected of being a problem really are," Klinenberg says. The survey asks employees about work-related discomfort and correlates their responses with risk factors and reported work-related musculoskeletal disorders to help validate jobs requiring attention and intervention. The JR/PD has been adopted by the DOD.
Proving the Case
Now in a new assignment, as commander, Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight at McClellan Air Force Base, Klinenberg is applying the PREMIER program locally and collecting "success stories." Once the program's positive impact on Air Force operations can be formally demonstrated, he believes, the Air Force and the DOD will be in a position to lead the nation toward greater awareness and use of ergonomics.
"I'm designing a study to provide the quantitative evidence necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of the changes we've made. Anecdotally I already know it's working," he says, citing a recent switch to new scanners at commissary check-out counters. "I talked to a few of the people at the new check-out stands, and they can't believe the change. People are not complaining about pain anymore, and productivity is up so high the supervisors don't have to measure anymore."
Klinenberg ascribes his success in instituting the PREMIER program to the talent and commitment of his Air Force coworkers and to his Berkeley training.
"I couldn't have done this without [Ergonomics Program Director] Dave Rempel," he says. "Even though we were mostly engineers in the Ergonomics Program, he opened our eyes to the rest of the occupational health specialties. Berkeley taught me to be an ambassador to many different fields. I have so many different audiences that I need to talk to, and the background I got from Berkeley prepared me for it."
PHOTO COURTESY OF ED KLINENBERG
Photo Caption: Air Force Major Edward Klinenberg (standing) demonstrates one of the important measurements for working safely at a computer.