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HR Magazine, August 2001: - Back With a Vengence

HR Magazine, August 2001
August 2001
Vol. 46, No. 8
Back With a Vengence
Back Problems in a White-Collared World

Back problems are not uncommon in a sedentary white-collar setting where people spend most of their time sitting in front of computer terminals.

When someone has a back problem, our goal is to keep them working, says Peter Berlin, vice president, Facilities Planning and Management at Merrill Lynch in Plainsboro, N.J.

In the last decade, Merrill Lynch has moved aggressively to purchase ergonomically approved office furniture and equipment for its 70,000 workers. Our headquarters and branches all have good chairs and furniture, Berlin says. But each person is different. You can have the perfect chair and if its not adjusted, you wont get the benefit.

The company encourages workers to request audits of their workstations. Each year about 1,000 take them up on it. The company follows up with customized remedial action. Information flow is constant, beginning with a detailed orientation and continuing on Merrills health and safety web site, which garners 1,200 hits a day.

So far, the combination of education, engineering and personalization is working. In 1994, 57 percent of Merrill Lynchs workers comp claims were back-related. By 2000, the rate had fallen to 32 percent. There will always be claims made; we wont get down to zero, Berlin says. But we hope to impact the number of employees who have to take time away. We want to keep people at work, catch people before they claim and keep the incidence rate down.

Robert J. Grossman

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