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Reducing workplace discomfort and injury is critical for PSAPs challenged with down-time and churn. While somewhat surprising, it is true that the industry lacks a centralized ergonomic standard to address the needs and challenges specific to 911 dispatching environments. Read on to learn how PSAP equipment providers can deliver meaningful solutions.


Conventional Ergonomics in Public Safety Environments

Why and where investments pay off.

APCO Project 40 (RETAINS) found the average annual turnover in the industry to be 17%. Overall employee satisfaction with the physical work environment was significantly related to center retention rate.

Costs attributed to work-related disorders in the emergency communications environment are diverse and stretch far beyond simple economics. In addition to employee pain and suffering, the impacts of poor workplace ergonomics include lost productivity, absenteeism, compensation and insurance costs. With the highest rate of churn in the public safety sector, indirect costs associated with losing experienced staff and recruiting and training new staff is of major concern to PSAPs nationwide.

A common and simple answer to the threat of injury and discomfort are ergonomic standards. Ergonomics developed in answer to the increased occurrence of work-related discomfort and injury. In its purest form, ergonomic standards and recommendations use data to create measures and rules that improve work processes and guide healthful workplace design. According to the team at ErgoWeb, "

The association between occupations and musculoskeletal injuries was documented centuries ago. Bernardino Ramazinni (1633-1714) wrote about work-related complaints (that he saw in his medical practice) in the 1713 supplement to his 1700 publication, De Morbis Artificum (Diseases of Workers). ... World War II prompted greater interest in human-machine interaction as the efficiency of sophisticated military equipment (i.e., airplanes) could be compromised by bad or confusing design. Design concepts of fitting the machine to the size of the soldier and logical/understandable control buttons evolved. After World War II, the focus of concern expanded to include worker safety as well as productivity. ...Areas of knowledge that involved human behavior and attributes (i.e., decision making process, organization design, human perception relative to design) became known as cognitive ergonomics or human factors.

Ergonomics and human factors disciplines continue to evolve as we learn more about the human body and lean toward optimizing daily body health and longevity.

Encouraging Movement in the Modern PSAP

While taking into account the science, engineering, rules, and regulations associated with conventional ergonomics, the most impactful approach to comfort, focus and health in the dispatch center may also be the simplest: MOVEMENT.

"The best ergonomic position is always your next positions. It’s common sense that changing positions, frequently, will reduce the risk of musculoskeletal discomfort and injury."

Dr. Henry Romero, CPE, CSP, and recognized expert in communication center ergonomics.

Advocates of the Alexander Technique concur, sharing "We frequently blame poorly designed work stations...for our aches and pains. Good ergonomics, however, only solves part of the equation. Often the missing piece is how we actually use our own body. Even the very best ergonomically designed workstation is of limited value if the person using it does not use their own body well."

IMG_5808-stock-2 empty positions-sit and stand

PSAPS Can Support Healthy, Safe Work Environments

Office workplace injuries are common and expensive. For 24/7 mission critical response teams, cost extends beyond healthcare. Recognizing the most common workplace injuries, including musculoskeletal disorders, and making changes to the workplace environment is one way public safety answering points mitigate risk.

The Workplace

Three simple steps will get you started.

  • Implement human factors and movement standards into buying practices for chairs, workstations, and other equipment.
  • Design workplace layouts in accordance with ergonomic best practices and principles. And provide opportunities for operators to change position regularly.
  • Educate employees on the correct use of tools and equipment and how to prevent and detecting early MSD symptoms. This helps employees get the most out of specialized work stations, report hazards before injuries occur and report injuries before they become irreversible.

The Dispatcher Workstation

The single most important workstation feature that promotes musculoskeletal health for a 911 dispatcher is height-adjustability. Providing a variable height desk and encouraging postural shift throughout the day has proven critical for joint health and weight regulation - two common health challenges shared by dispatchers. When complemented by additional environment controls, a specialized height-adjustable dispatcher desk promotes worker satisfaction and long-term health.

Learn more

Download the whitepaper, Human Factors and Movement for the 24/7 Public Safety Environment, to discover more about these health and safety topics:

  • conventional ergonomic standards,
  • injury risk and associated costs,
  • the value of movement during the workday,
  • workstations features that promote health and safety,
  • additional tactics for health-focused PSAPs.

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