Workplace Ergonomics: Your Employees, Your Programme, Your Success
Does your company currently have a workplace ergonomics programme? Does it meet all legislative requirements? If so, what else are you hoping to achieve from its implementation?
Most companies and managers see this practice as a ticking box exercise, but in the 21st century it can help you to achieve so much more. This all depends on your point of view and how you quantify its success.
Ergonomics and Costs
There are many ways of calculating the return on investment (ROI) for an ergonomics programme. Most of these metrics use: cost of the programme vs. the benefits received. Many of the following metrics are also used:
Injury/illness rates or sick leave
However, what are the true benefits of investing in this practice? Productivity is difficult to gauge; is it time spent sitting in the chair? Hours at work? Number of projects finished? In very simplistic terms, productivity is the amount of work that gets completed. But what if this work completed comes at a cost to the employees health?
Signs of a problem can be there for a long time and may not manifest itself as a absentee day until the individual is in a much worsened state of health. By this time, it is much too late. In a study by Goggins et al (2008), they reference how the “cost-benefit analysis (CBA) needs to be based on ‘real world’ data in order to be credible”1. So the data which you choose to base your programme on must be the first place to start.
Gathering data can be as simple as using an anonymous and simple employee questionnaire or compilation of previous data, if it is available. It is also recommend that “cost-justifying ergonomics interventions prior to implementation may help to secure management support for proposed changes”. If a company is going to make an investment, then the data required must be ready prior to implementation 1.
Ergonomics as part of a Company Strategy
Managers usually associate ergonomics with occupational health and safety and related legislation, not with business performance2. However, the most valuable asset of an organization is related to their employees3 and so it stands to reason that taking the appropriate steps to ensure employees are taken care of will only benefit the company as a whole in terms of output and success. In recent times, new approaches and methods have been established, all in the pursuit of optimising human actions to increase productivity3.
The two emerging tendencies by companies are the minimisation of fatigue (excessive energy consumption) and maximisation of human resources productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness during the work processes3.
When we look at the increased output of modern workers, due to the influence of increased communication and globalisation, the one aspect of the modern workspace that has flown somewhat under the radar is the continuation of the 9-5pm working day. In reality, is this still reflective of most workers work practices?
In some cases the increased output by employees may be based on extended work hours so therefore it is not reflective of the success of other interventions as it comes at a cost to the employee. Ergonomics helps to tackle both the issue of minimization of fatigue and increased productivity either “directly or indirectly as it is focused on ensuring work environment adaptation to employees abilities, skills, and limitations”3.
Each organisation must learn and understand what the employees require based on any issues that they may be experiencing, eg. MSK problems. Identifying trends and implementing the correct interventions will provide the greatest return on investment and overall effects on employees.
Putting a Context Around Ergonomics
The effectiveness of a workstation ergonomic intervention for work-related posture and low back pain (LBP) in desk-based workers has been examined 4. It followed 200 workers over a 30-month period. 100 of the workers were selected to receive the ergonomic intervention, whereas the other 100 had no intervention 4.
The ergonomic intervention at the workstation improved work-related posture and was effective in reducing LBP throughout the study period and most encouragingly these effects persisted for at least 30 months 4. This study helped to highlight that individualised ergonomic interventions may be able to improve work-related posture and reduce LBP for desk-based workers 4. It is not unthinkable that employees with improved work-related posture and decreased LBP would have a greater productivity level and overall job satisfaction4.
What if the “ergonomic intervention” was something as simple as selecting the correct chair for your employees? Furniture/equipment is a key investment for all organisations and making the right choice can have far-reaching effects. Desk-based employees sit in their chairs for the vast majority of their day. If an organisation was to invest in one key area, it stands to reason that the chair should be high on the list of priorities.
Imagine that the right choice of chair was the difference between employees experiencing work-related postural issues and LBP. It seems like a simple solution to a potentially complicated problem. This could be taken further and include employee satisfaction, and so potentially retention could be improved upon simply based upon the chair they sit in.
Different chairs have different functions and not all may be relevant. As a general rule of thumb, the more expensive the chair, the increased number of adjustments it has. The more adjustments, the increased likelihood that the vast majority of employees will be able to find a comfortable working position. So as part of the investment into new and/or improved equipment, factoring in the cost of correctly instructing employees on how to use this equipment should be a part of the overall strategy as it has direct implications on the overall effectiveness.
Keeping with the above information, we can say that the process flow when making an investment should be the following:
Gather relevant data, for example: common trends, employee satisfaction, MSK issues and common postural issues
Base the resulting investments on this specific information
Provide training and instruction on the new equipment
In spite of increased production and productivity, there are different adverse effects of technology. Some such effects can manifest themselves, such “as psychological stresses, increased incidence of musculoskeletal disorders, inactivity and fatigue” 5. Several approaches and strategies have been introduced including “setting up training programmes, ergonomic principles for working, job rotation, relaxing and sharing information” 5.
The managers of organisations are required to plan programmes to improve work conditions, modify working instrument and train ergonomic principles for working5 to give themselves and their employees the best chance of success. Therefore, providing the best conditions and instruction in the workplace can only benefit workplace metrics such as productivity, employee engagement, injury/illness rates or sick leave and reduce programme costs in the future.
So no matter which metrics you use, every organisation should aim for continuous improvement; an ergonomic intervention is not just compulsory in achieving this goal but it is unavoidable if true success is to be obtained and maintained 3.
For further information on workplace ergonomics, get in touch with us.
Goggins RW, Spielholz P, Nothstein GL (2008). Estimating the effectiveness of ergonomics interventions through case studies: implications for predictive cost-benefit analysis. J Safety Res.;39(3):339-44.
Dul J, Neumann WP (2009). Ergonomics contributions to company strategies. Appl Ergon. 2009 Jul;40(4):745-52
Boatcaa M E, Cirjaliub B (2015). A Proposed Approach for an Efficient Ergonomics Intervention in Organizations. Procedia Economics and Finance. 23: 54-62
Pillastrinia P, Mugnaia R, Bertozzia L, Costib S, Curtia S, Guccionec A, Mattiolia S, Violantea F (2010). Effectiveness of an ergonomic intervention on work-related posture and low back pain in video display terminal operators: A 3 year cross-over trial. Applied Ergonomics. 41(3): 436-443
Bagheri, S, GHaljahi, M (2019): Ergonomic Evaluation of Musculoskeletal Disorders with Rapid Office Strain Assessment and Its Association with Occupational Burnout among Computer Users. Asian Journal of Water, Environment and Pollution. 16(1): 91-96