Ergonomics, defined as ‘the study of work’, is gaining traction with more and more businesses as they look at design their needs to fit their workers, rather than forcing their worker’s bodies to fit the jobs that need doing.
Of course, changing business-as-usual practices and operations can often require additional investment, whether through the modification of equipment, shifting work methods, buying new tools or devices, or carrying out extra training.
However, increasing evidence points to the fact that ergonomic solutions can actually save businesses lots of money in the long term. It’s no secret that many workers suffer from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), defined as an ‘injury, damage, or disorder of the joints’. Lifting heavy things, bending, stretching, reaching overhead, pushing, pulling, working in awkward body postures, and performing specific tasks repetitively causes strains and sprains. And this is a big problem for many reasons, not least staff having to take days off because they are in pain or unable to perform their job sufficiently.
In the US, MSDs account for around a third of days off and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) believes MSDs cost companies between $15 and $20 billion a year in workers’ compensation expenses. The Institute of Medicine puts the total yearly economic burden of MSDs at around $54 billion.
Clearly, up-front investment in the prevention of MSDs is a crucial step – and not just for those in heavy industries, such as construction or manufacturing. Those working in healthcare, logistics and offices are also at risk. The good news is that companies can address their workers’ MSDs with simple workplace interventions that can make a big difference, reducing the physical demands placed on workers, eliminating awkward or unnecessary movements, as well as lowering injury rates.
Here are five ideas why that would be a good idea:
- Demonstrate a commitment to safety in general
For any organisation, the health and safety of employees should be your No. 1 priority. However, it can often demand buy-in from staff to maintain standards and stay on top of effective reporting and monitoring. By investing in ergonomic changes to the working environment you are confirming to your entire workforce that you take health and safety issues seriously and are doing everything you can to create and maintain optimum working conditions – and you expect them to do the same.
- Boost productivity
A study by the Institute of Work and Health conducted a study using 200 office-based workers. Some received office ergonomic training, some received a highly adjustable chair and training and some acted as a control group.
Data on health outcomes, absenteeism and productivity were collected before and after the intervention. The study found that training alone did not have a significant impact on either health or productivity. But the chair-with-training intervention improved productivity by almost 18% during the course of a year thanks to reduction in workers’ pain and more effective use of workspaces.
Healthy staff = productive staff. Simple.
- Make people happier
Similarly, happy staff = more productive staff. By investing in ergonomic interventions, you will create a workforce that is leaving their office or factory each day less tired and in less pain and discomfort. And this will make them happier about getting up the next day and coming into work. They will know that you care about them and will have greater job satisfaction. And that will translate into an enhanced level of performance, regardless of job role, and make them easier to manage.
- It is an investment, not a cost
Do not think of improved ergonomics in your business as a cost. You are investing in the future of your workforce, making them healthier, happier and more productive, while cutting costs associated with lost work days, injury-related compensation, and boosting the morale of staff and your reputation.
- Get staff to stick around for longer
If your workers are satisfied with your efforts to protect them against ill health, they are much more likely to stay loyal rather than go off in search of alternative employment. And that is good for the bottom line. According to the American Center for Progress, the median cost of staff turnover to an organisation is about 21% of its annual salary expenditure.