The Ergonomic Evaluator
MiraCosta College personnel were plagued with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and other repetitive motion injuries. One employee even had to take early retirement as a result. Joe J. Mazza, director of risk management and the ADA coordinator at the California-based community college, knew there was only one solution: Ergonomic workstations.
“You see the ripple effect of not having a set plan in place,” he realized when he reviewed the college’s workers’ comp claims in 2011. “I found that we had nine claims over the three-year period of 2007 to 2010.”
The average claim cost $19,446. Mazza knew he could cut expenses by reducing the cause behind CTS, which led him to ergonomic workstations. But Mazza refused to settle for just an updated office desk; he wanted lasting change.
“The college was working with several vendors at the time, and one of them had a two-day ergonomic training workshop, which I attended,” Mazza said.
Before, when an employee at MiraCosta was experiencing pain, an evaluator or vendor came to assess the situation. But by becoming an ergonomic evaluator himself, Mazza saved time and created a work environment where employees could come to him right away.
As a result, “we’ve avoided a lot of workers’ comp claims by someone coming up to me and saying, ‘My chair’s uncomfortable,’ or ‘I need you to look at this.’ ”
Sometimes it’s a zero-cost fix.
“It could be a simple mouse adjustment or moving the monitor up a hair,” he said. “Sometimes all it takes is a minor adjustment — or else it’s a major surgery.”
Finances proved Mazza’s biggest hurdle; with a budget of only $20,000 for the year, he had to get creative. If he found himself short on finances for a department, he would work with each department head.
“I’d say, ‘This is how much it costs. I can get half, or I can get two-thirds, could you come up with the rest?’ ” explained Mazza.
“This way, I was spreading the risk of costs. And it was a win-win for both sides.”
“Sometimes all it takes is a minor adjustment — or else it’s a major surgery.” — Joseph Mazza, director of risk management and ADA coordinator, MiraCosta College
Claire Wilson, a physical therapist and a human factors and ergonomics specialist at furniture designer Herman Miller Inc., uses Mazza as a model for clients looking to add best ergonomic practices to their workplace.
“The thing about Joe is he’s a people person first,” said Wilson.
“Other risk managers have other people do the evaluations for them. Joe’s hands-on approach is unique. He has the perfect background, being in insurance. He sees all the moving parts of the picture and can weigh them for the best option.”
“When we first started out, the challenge was trying to understand what we were accomplishing,” said Mazza.
But the results are in, and the numbers speak volumes. MiraCosta, after five years, has had a reduction in frequency of claims, with the average claim costing $18,927. From 2010 to today, the college’s overall reduction in workers’ comp claims is 47.9 percent. &