24 November 2021

Preventive approach to disability: back and wrist braces seem to be the solution

How do we keep our people vital? A question that is central to cleaning company EW Facility Services. As an employer, it sees it as its task to provide an environment in which employees can continue to function well until and after their retirement, while maintaining their health and vitality. The balance between work and health, competencies and motivation is central to this. Together, we work towards a fit, vital and happy life, now and in the future.

Preventive approach to disability: back and wrist braces seem to be the solution

The organisation hopes to answer the aforementioned question by means of a three-phase pilot with an exoskeleton in the form of wrist and back braces. The first two phases have already been completed and the results are very positive: for example, the risk of strain in the lower back is reduced by 30 to 40 percent. Phase 3 is now in full swing and is nearing completion. In this third and most intensive phase of the pilot project, the facility services provider is testing the support tools in practice for a longer period of time at about 20 locations throughout the country. The objective is to answer the question: what health benefits does the long-term use of braces bring to cleaning staff?

Physical challenge

Everyone in the cleaning industry knows that cleaning work is physically demanding. Age is not the only factor, according to HR Director at EW Facility Services Maaike Ligtenstein-van Bree: "Even though on average EW Facility Services has a relatively young workforce, cleaning remains physically demanding work. It turns out that no less than eighty per cent of the drop-outs in our organisation are due to physical complaints, almost all of which are related to the locomotor system. As far as we are concerned, that has to change. Reason enough to investigate what we can do to support our people and significantly reduce the physical load for them."

Vitality policy

With its 'Sterk in je Werk' programme, the facility services provider is firmly committed to a broad vitality policy. In doing so, it activates awareness, joint responsibility and the pursuit of a safe working environment with satisfied and energetic colleagues. The programme focuses on health, development and organisation. Employees are supported in various areas. This varies from personal guidance from an occupational coach, flexible working hours and career development to the multiple annual employee satisfaction tests, work pressure measurements and the possibility to go to the gym or purchase a bicycle with tax benefits. Ligtenstein-van Bree: "Our vitality policy is about finding the balance between work and health, competencies and motivation. By working with ergonomic tools such as the exoskeleton in addition to these initiatives, we hopefully have an innovative solution that can make a huge contribution at the front end."

First promising results

In order to determine whether and how much health benefit can be gained from the use of the exoskeleton in the form of wrist and back braces, EW Facility Services launched a three-phase pilot project a year ago in cooperation with supplier Pre-Tec. The brace helps to adopt a correct posture. The results of phase 1 and 2 of the pilot are promising. It appears that in almost one third of the tests, the risk of back strain was reduced by 30 to 40 percent. The employees concerned were less tired after their shift, experienced fewer physical complaints during work and were less stiff when they woke up the next day. This is mainly because the brace 'forces' employees to adopt the correct physical posture when, for example, making a bed.

Start of final pilot phase

After these positive initial results, phase 3 is now underway and the end of the pilot is in sight. In this final phase, the braces were tested in practice on a group of over 100 employees over a period of four months. "Good posture is by definition the starting point," says Ligtenstein-van Bree. "Our ergocoach supervises the participants. She visits the pilot sites, gives tips and supports our people where necessary. This ensures that we continue to perfect from the starting point of 'good'." EW Facility Services expects the final results of this national pilot in early 2022. If the pilot is successful, the aim is to roll out the use of braces nationally within the organisation.

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