Occupational ergonomics continues to emerge as one of the priority workplace issues addressed by employers today. This is driven primarily by the need to reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Many workplace injuries are due to poor ergonomic conditions. Most companies attribute the high incidence of MSDs to:
- Reduction of other types of injuries. As a result of programs focused on reducing and eliminating mechanical, electrical, and chemical hazards, MSDs are now emerging as a priority issue.
- Increased work demand on individual employees. Typically attributed to workforce downsizing, production rate changes, cost constraints, and “doing more with less,” there is increased work demand on individual employees.
- Some companies attribute their MSDs to the capabilities, conditioning, and condition of older workers noting an aging workforce.
Workplace Ergonomics History
Companies with effective ergonomics programs tend to manage ergonomics as a process that is aligned with, or integrated into, existing improvement processes. Back in 1990, OSHA released the Ergonomics Program Management Guideline for Meatpacking Plants. This provided the first structure for the elements of an ergonomics program. It was the right direction and structure needed at the time, but it was a collection of individual program elements that were not tied together.
Since then, business, quality, and Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) leaders have adopted the principles of continuous improvement to move from a program to a process approach. The shift to managing as a process engages people across an organization, ensures that the processes are sustainable as time, leaders, and business needs change, integrates the processes into the business and ensures that they are not dependent upon a few people, and provides a logical system for determining and driving improvement.
Ergonomics reduces costs
Preventing costly MSDs can be done by systematically reducing ergonomic risk factors. Approximately $1 out of every $3 in workers compensation costs are attributed to MSDs, so there is definitely motivation to employ ergonomics to achieve a cost savings in this area. One also must keep in mind that indirect costs can be up to twenty times the direct cost of an injury. Ergonomics can reduce the sources of indirect costs.
Ergonomics improves productivity
By designing a task or occupation for good posture, less exertion, fewer motions, and better heights and reaches, the workstation becomes more efficient. The most useful ergonomic solutions will often improve productivity. And this leads to improved morale.
Ergonomics improves quality
Nonexistent or poor ergonomics leads to frustrated, fatigued and sore employees who won’t be able to achieve their best work. If a job task becomes too physically taxing on the employee, it’s unlikely they will perform their job in the manner in which they were trained. For example, a tired, stressed, or injured employee might not fasten a screw tight enough due to a high force requirement which could create a product quality issue. And that costs everyone.
Ergonomics improves employee engagement
Employees notice when the company is putting forth their best efforts to ensure their health and safety. Taking steps to add ergonomic furniture and accessories is a good way to achieve that goal. A comfortable, relaxed employee does not experience much stress and fatigue during their workday, which can help reduce turnover, decrease absenteeism, improve morale, and increase employee involvement.
Ergonomics creates a better safety culture
Ergonomics shows your company’s commitment to safety and health as a core value. Safety needs to become a core value in your company. Your safety culture should be experienced by every employee at every moment of every day.
Policies and procedures need to be in place so there’s a supportive environment for your safety culture. Healthy employees are your most valuable asset; creating and fostering the safety and health culture at your company will lead to better human performance for your organization.