Hello Werner! Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
My name is Werner and I have been working as an occupational health nurse at Evonik in Antwerp (formerly Degussa) since 2005, our health department takes care of around 1000 employees at the site. My tasks are quite diverse: We take care of the planning and execution of the health assessments of our employees, examine our business travellers and expats, take care of the vaccinations, bio-monitoring, participate in site inspections, evaluate new PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), keep the database of the chemical products up-to-date, take care of the industrial hygiene and ergonomic issues. And: If something goes wrong and someone is injured, we provide first aid.
Interesting, that are quite a few tasks! Please tell us: What makes your job so special?
In 2006, I took a course as ergonomic consultant at the Institute for Prevention, Protection and Well-being at Work and since then, together with my colleague Peter, I have been looking after the employee’s ergonomic problems at our site. In addition, we carry out risk analyses for production workers who have to handle heavy loads, and in consultation with the department heads we check the facilities at the monitor workstations.
How come you joined the world of ergonomics?
At our medical department, which is part of the IDPPW (Internal department for Prevention and Protection in the Workplace), employees regularly complained about different body aches, mostly in the back, neck and shoulder area, that resulted from specific tasks or work circumstances (e.g. production workers that have to perform heavy lifting or office workers who are mainly sitting at their desks during the work day). This aroused my interest in ergonomics and when our previous ergonomist retired, I took over this task.
Is there an achievement (in the field of ergonomics) that you are particularly proud of?
To be honest, I am proud of every small achievement, because sometimes it takes a lot of effort to convince employees to adapt jobs, working conditions or tools. It is difficult to break habits and ergonomic problems are often not seen as that urgent in everyday work life. But this should be the case! Adaptions in the field of ergonomics prove their worth, especially in the long-term, the benefits cannot always be noticed immediately. However, I am especially proud of the implementation of 24h chairs in our control rooms. In the past, our control room operators sat on ordinary office chairs for 8 hours a day. There was also no standard, every team bought office chairs on their own. Since the introduction of the 24h chairs, the number of complaints decreased significantly. We also have implemented a standardisation for ordinary office chairs so that office chairs with positive ergonomic aspects are used throughout the site. The purchase of a height-adjustable desk is now also the standard for monitoring workstations.
Could you give us a good example of “innovations” that have been adapted in the field of ergonomics and has improved our daily lives?
In my opinion, a good example are hand tools for left-handed people such as scissors, peelers or computer mouse devices. If you know that 10 percent of the population is left-handed, but most of the hand tools are made for right-handed people, you can assume that around 10 percent of our employees are using tools that could cause difficulties. 1 in 5 left-handers faces problems at work due to being left-handed. When using right-handed tools as a left-handed person, you must use these tools in an uncomfortable and inconvenient manner. Furthermore, it can cause real safety issues. Ergonomic, left-handed materials improve productivity, but also make the left-handed team member feel valued and cared for. By the way, did you know that August 13th is the International Left-Handers Day?
What are your plans for the future with regards to your activities in the field of ergonomics?
The new Royal Decree of May 2nd, 2019 amending the codex on well-being at work regarding to indoor air quality in the working rooms still needs to be put into practice. The goal of this new decree is to protect the health of the employees and to achieve good air quality. To reach this goal we will execute risk analysis and then, if necessary, take precautionary actions.
Let’s finish with something a little bit more personal: How did you find your way to Evonik?
Before I started working for Evonik (formerly Degussa), I have worked in intensive care in a hospital for 14 years. After those 14 years, I felt like it was time to do something else than working in the hospital. While searching for a new job in the local newspaper, an employment ad from Degussa caught my attention. Degussa was a well-known company in the harbour of Antwerp and working in a chemical environment was something completely new to me. But what attracted me the most – and still does – is that I now have the chance to prevent people from getting sick and help them to improve their health. This job comes with a big variety of tasks and this is what I love about this job at Evonik.