How To Build An Award Winning Ergo & Wellness Program

Gold medal winnerWe are always touting the numerous benefits of a great ergonomics and wellness program.  But how do you do that when resources are slim and you don’t have much more than yourself and maybe a few support people to help you put a program together.  Keith Osborne, HSE Site Lead, tells us in this interview how he developed not one, but two award winning programs at his company.  In his words……

PBE: You have built not one, but two award winning wellness programs for your company.   One for fitness & wellness and one for ergonomics.  There clearly is a connection.  Can you speak about that?

Keith: I have always felt that there is a connection between the two. Wellness is about the health and wellbeing of employees. This includes a healthy lifestyle and fitness. To this end, I encourage employees to eat better, exercise and reduce stress, which can lessen the chances of injuries and illness. I also promote ergonomics. When I work with an employee to set up their workstation, train them to properly mouse and keyboard avoiding awkward hand and wrist positions, encourage them to use alternate workstations such as sit stands,  I am helping them to eliminate the stress of an uncomfortable workstation, lessen or eliminate discomfort, and mitigated injury risks all of which speaks to the wellbeing of the employee.

PBE: Can you tell us how you built your wellness/fitness program and what it offers employees?

Keith: I designed and installed a fitness center in the facility. It has cardio, weight training (both free weights and cable machines), exercise balls, medicine balls, kettlebells, TRX Systems, stretch bands, video decks such as the P90X, and as a certified trainer, I also write individualized programs for those who want some guidance for their time in the center. We have certified trainers (other employees) who provide classes such as Zumba and Yoga. I give each new employee a briefing of the fitness center as well as our Cyber Kiosk Room, which has a treadmill station, recumbent bike station, and a sit stand station. The Cyber Kiosk Room is for employees to use while they complete company training. As they click through slide decks they can walk, pedal or dynamically stand, providing a wellness benefit to their otherwise mundane training slides.

PBE: Many organizations look at wellness & ergonomic programs as an expenditure and even as a “luxury”.  Can you talk to us about the ways these programs benefit organizations?

Keith: At my company, that was the attitude when I first came on board. Eventually, after taking courses in ergonomics, wellness, and getting my Six Sigma Green Belt, I decided to build some metrics to show that if we invested some capital in the wellbeing of our employees through wellness and ergonomic corrective actions, the potential was huge to recoup lost productivity, streamline processes, mitigate injuries before they became recordable or simply lost time.  I think many companies lose sight of the notion that a comfortable, healthy employee with access to wellness programs, ergonomic tools, and management that has a desire to help employees be the best they can be, improve their output dramatically.  We were averaging over 7 WSDS per month until the program was fully established in 2009.  There have been no recordable injuries since and our productivity has improved by an average of 12% across the board each year. Sick days have dropped by a steady 4-5% rate annually. With the increase in productivity you can safely argue that “presenteeism” has dropped as well. (Coming to work sick) Additionally, if a company truly wants to show continuous improvement and be leaner and more productive (think Toyota and their TQM System), ergonomics and wellness are at the forefront of those efforts. A healthier, less injury prone employee is more focused, more engaged in their work, and tends to contribute more freely to keep those trends going because they know management is receptive to changes that continue to improve the bottom line of a company..

PBE: How much do you rely on online tools vs live training/services for both, your wellness and ergonomics programs?  How has this helped you and the employees you oversee?

Keith: I incorporate online programs for both Manual Material Handling and Office Ergonomics.  Each has enabled me to better target those who need 1:1 interventions from those who might benefit from training. The employees feel empowered because they have training tools at their disposal. They are able to self-assess as many times as they want and can self-correct issues before asking me. Even in the short period of time I have had the online tools (about a year), the employees are smarter about their own set ups and are energized when they can solve issues on their own. The tools are of great benefit to me with regards to time management.  Since this is not my only duty as an HSE specialist, it has allowed me to keep up with the work demands of other issues I am involved with without feeling like I am neglecting this great program. I also use a fitness software to track those employees who have asked for personalized fitness programs. This is a great tool that allows me to write a new program every 4 weeks so employees do not get bored and quit their fitness efforts.

PBE: In your opinion, what departments at an organization should be involved in running an effective program?  (i.e., HR, IT, Facilities, etc.)

Keith: I think those you listed are vital.  I also recommend recruiting a safety representative from every department. Input needs to come from those who use the equipment, work in the workstations, and are in the trenches. We have an employee run Ergonomics/Wellness Safety Committee that meets monthly to discuss issues in these areas. They regularly provide ideas on how to improve our programs with things like: walking meetings, converting a conference room into a standing conference area, running groups, health fairs, blood drives, just to name a few.

PBE: What would you advise smaller organizations without a lot of budget to put into place to start a wellness/ergo program?  What would be your top three “must haves”?


  1. Adjustability. Make sure you invest in workstations that can be adjusted as much as possible. It will save money in the long run by not having to buy additional equipment. This also goes for chairs. Have more than one type. One size does not fit all.
  2. Online tools. They are very affordable and can actually empower employees to fix a lot on their own. With built in training decks employees can refresh as often as necessary.
  3. A website with links to health and wellness sites. Provide weekly messages to keep employees informed about resources, internal programs and DIY ideas. Links to discounts to fitness centers if there is no room or money to build one. An employee driven committee to brainstorm activities centered around wellness.

PBE: What is the most challenging thing about running wellness programs?

Keith: Keeping management focused on the necessity. It has been made easier by the adoption of the online tools so I have metrics at my fingertips, but I would say that. The most challenging thing from the start for both programs was to garner management buy in. This is key and it doesn’t matter what size company. If the people at the top don’t see the added value of any program, it won’t fly. Build test cases, gather data and metrics to support it and you have a good chance of getting the support necessary to drive change. The single most important asset a company has is its employees and these programs get the most out of that asset while keeping them healthy and safe. Our current ROI here is 25:1. Every dollar spent we earn 25 back in gained productivity, decreases in lost time (sick days).

PBE: What is the most rewarding thing about running wellness programs?

Keith: Seeing the joy when employees reach a fitness goal and when they come back to me and tell me that what I am doing here has impacted their lives at home and the lives of their families. Every day I go home with a smile to know that my programs are having an immediate, positive and lasting impact on the lives of our employees.


Keith Osborne is currently an HSE Site Lead for a major defense contractor in Colorado Springs. He is responsible for the development of the Ergonomics and Wellness Programs, both of which are industry and OSHA Best Practices. Keith is a Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist I/III, Certified Wellness Specialist, Master Fitness Trainer, Six Sigma Greenbelt, and published author and lecturer on the subjects of ergonomics and wellness. He is the recipient of his company’s HSE President’s Award for his work in ergonomics and wellness. Keith holds two Bachelor of Science degrees in Applied Management and Business Administration and is a member of HFES, ASSE, and AIHA.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave us a comment below.  What features do you have in your ergonomics program if you run one?  If you work at a company, what benefits do you enjoy that are part of your company’s wellness initiatives?

Until the next time, be happy, energized and productive!

4577Vivienne & Andrew, PBE Co-Founders & Co-Authors TIME TO REBOOT; 21 Day Plan to Take Charge of Your Health, Your Work and Your Life

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