Workplace injuries are expensive and frustrating, costing companies billions of dollars every year in direct losses and creating tremendous stress and discomfort for sufferers.
An ergonomics program — a systematic process of fitting jobs and equipment to people rather than the other way around — is a wise investment that can not only save money but also improve health, productivity and morale.
The Cost of Business As Usual
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as pinched nerves, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and other kinds of soft tissue injuries, cause a full third of missed days of work.
These kinds of injuries often stem from repetitive strain or poorly designed workspaces that force workers into unnatural positions or movements.
The results include not only a loss of productivity and efficiency but also huge financial costs. How huge? Consider these statistics:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website reports that workers' compensation cases alone cost businesses $1 billion per week in direct payments.
- The National Safety Council estimated total preventable injury-related costs paid in 2016 by both private companies and the government at over $800 billion!
An ergonomics program can offset many of these costs while helping employees feel and perform better at work, as well as feel better about their work and their employer. Occupational Health & Safety Magazine reports:
“Studies have shown significant gains in productivity and employee job satisfaction with the introduction of an effective office ergonomics program. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries and the Puget Sound Human Factors and Ergonomics Society analyzed 250 such studies and discovered that, on average, introduction of an office ergonomics program lowered workplace MSDs by 61 percent.”
That’s almost a ⅔ reduction in workplace injuries. Developing an ergonomics program is clearly a great way to reduce the costs and consequences of these injuries.
How to Develop an Ergonomics Program
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, many companies put off addressing ergonomics until employees start having issues, whereas an ergonomics program is actually most effective as a preventative framework before MSDs start popping up.
There’s no better time than now to get started since many MSDs develop over an extended period.
Getting Started With Ergonomics
You don’t need to be an ergonomics expert to champion an ergonomics program at work. You simply need to care and start to pay attention to your environment.
Take note when you see coworkers straining, showing signs of pain or fatigue, or working in awkward positions. Look for common issues and complaints, and observe what’s going on in any areas that seem problematic.
Getting Support For Your Safety Program
Collect some basic data about the cost of workplace injuries, such as the statistics mentioned above in this article.
To get a better idea of how much injuries are affecting your company’s bottom line and how much money a stronger safety program could save you, check out this free online calculator provided by OSHA.
Talk to managers and human resources staff in your organization to get their perspective. Even better, get managers or colleagues to participate in the observation effort and share notes with you on the ergo-errors they come across among their team members.
Making The Case For Ergonomics
Compile your notes with those of any helpful comrades you’ve been able to wrangle and decide what issues are the highest priority—the ones that are causing the most (or the most expensive) injuries.
Research solutions to those hot-button problems, both in terms of equipment and training, and be prepared to show how those costs compare with the potential savings from reducing injuries and the expected gains in productivity and morale.
Meet with stakeholders and present your ideas, backing them up with your data and cost savings analysis. With any luck, they’ll see the light and offer their support.
Getting the most out of Your Ergonomics Plan
If you're going to the trouble to develop an ergonomics plan, you might as well cover all your bases so it gives you the highest possible return on the investment. Consider the following...
Although some workplaces can have unique ergonomic challenges that require custom physical solutions, many issues are fairly common, especially in office environments, so it’s likely that solutions already exist.
They may range in complexity and price, and you’ll need to be able to justify the costs. To address carpal tunnel syndrome, for example, potential solutions could include a gel wrist rest for under $20, an ergonomic mouse or trackpad in the $100 range, and a height-adjustable desk for several hundred. The higher-cost investments can definitely be worth it, especially for high-priority issues.
Equipment alone won’t solve the problems if worker behavior doesn’t change as well, so education is a must for an effective ergonomics program. Employees may be resistant, so it’s important to help them understand that ergonomics training offers long-term benefits for their health and happiness.
In the early days of personal computing, office workstation ergonomics training was often provided in-person on a 1-to-1 basis. While there are many advantages to this approach, the costs are relatively high and the reach is limited.
Fortunately, these days, many training options are available via the internet, which means companies can save money and trainees can review lessons repeatedly to make sure they master the concepts.
Savvy company leaders should recognize that the proven reductions in days off and turnover, as well as the boosts in job satisfaction and productivity, justify investing in ergonomics training.
Continuous Workplace Safety Improvement
A great ergonomics program will be ongoing, always looking for new ways to improve both the environment of the workplace and the habits of the people in it. It will foster employees’ sense of self-responsibility for their health and empower them with knowledge, tools, and language to assess current conditions and envision improvements.
Old habits die hard, however, so be sure to incorporate review sessions and reminder procedures. Also, any employee turnover will create the need for training for new hires on best practices and making sure their workstations fit them.
Ergonomics is all about making people’s lives better, and implementing a program in your organization will not only save you money but will build trust and goodwill by showing employees that the company they work for cares about their well-being.