Many people associate “workplace ergonomics” with workplace wellness programs. Some large employers that offer health benefits also offer a wellness program, but such programs differ widely in the services they offer. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “50% of firms offering health benefits in 2015 offered wellness programs related to “tobacco cessation,” “weight loss,” and/or “other lifestyle or behavioral coaching.” While ergonomics may be an important part of such a program, ergonomics goes beyond the average workplace wellness program.
Let’s take a look at what ergonomics is and what role it plays in the workplace. OSHA states, “Ergonomics can be defined simply as the study of work. More specifically, ergonomics is the science of designing the job to fit the worker, rather than physically forcing the worker’s body to fit the job.”
Employers know that good employees are their business’ most important asset. If an employee is unable to work, a skilled replacement is often difficult or impossible to find. Ill-fitting or badly designed equipment or workstations can lead to pain, exhaustion, and frustration. Unnecessary repetitive motions, awkward working postures, and excessive reaches can all cause an employee to work harder than necessary and reduce efficiency. We are all designed differently, so it just makes sense that seemingly small adjustments, like chair height, or the way a workstation is arranged, can make an enormous difference in an employee’s day. These problems are usually easy to fix and can result in improved employee morale. The basic goal, then, is to improve health and safety, while also improving productivity.
It is easy to see that improving the well-being of employees leads to greater output, and, therefore, greater profits. According to ergonomics consultant Dan MacLeod, “It is common for ergonomic improvements to increase productivity 10 – 15%.” Studies have even shown up to a 25% increase in productivity at computer workstations. An ergonomics task analysis will look at each job step by step to identify and correct inefficient activities which result in improved efficiency.
Improving the workplace using ergonomics analysis and design can benefit both management and labor. Good ergonomics programs can reduce employees’ compensation costs as much as 80-90%. Such programs help minimize injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These account for 34 percent of all lost-workday injuries and illnesses. In addition, in some cases, OSHA has issued fines to companies who have failed to address musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. (Although OSHA does not have a specific standard for ergonomics, employers can be cited for related issues under the General Duty Clause.) MSDs lead to medical claims, employees’ compensation claims and excessive time off. In the case of severe injuries, employees may be unable to return to their jobs and may also be unable to perform everyday tasks without help.
Rapidly changing technology means there are big changes in how we work and the science of ergonomics is growing with these changes. The current generation entering the workforce is creating different workplaces, with casual lounge furniture and exercise options in social areas to encourage employees to move around and sit or stand in comfortable positions. Ergonomics experts are also aware, however, that the next generation of employees may already have some injuries due to repetitive motions on keyboards and gaming devices. Carefully designed workplaces can help minimize existing injuries.
Attention to safety and the principles of ergonomics is vitally important for both employers and their employees. Employers know that they have provided the best possible environment for their employees and for the productivity of their business. Both employers and employees benefit when employees have a safe, healthy and comfortable workplace. And when health care costs go down, due to fewer injuries and illnesses, we all benefit.
For more information on ergonomics in your workplace, visit Healthworks Ergonomics today!.