By Chris Kilbourne
More companies are beginning to view ergonomics as an overall business tool. And they’re saving money.
According to veteran ergonomics consultant Dan MacLeod, the value of ergonomics is often underrated—especially when budget time rolls around. Macleod, however, has catalogued many ways ergonomics can save money.
- Dramatic reduction in workers’ compensation costs. Good ergonomics programs cut comp costs an average of 60 percent and up to 90 percent in some cases.
- Improved productivity. According to MacLeod, ergonomic improvements commonly raise productivity by 10 to 15 percent.
- Fewer mistakes and less scrap. People working in awkward and uncomfortable postures commonly make mistakes. At one business, a $400 mechanical device eliminated a $6,000 annual loss in scrap caused by employees who had been unable to consistently perform a demanding physical task. The return on investment was 1500 percent!
- Improved efficiency. Ergonomics improves efficiency due to improved working posture, less exertion, fewer motions, and better heights and reaches.
- Less fatigue. Fatigue has long been known to result in lost productivity. Ergonomics specialists seek the causes of excessive fatigue and ways to reduce or eliminate them.
- Reduced maintenance downtime. For example, providing clearance, reducing exertion, and reducing motions can speed up the time in which operations can be brought back online.
- Protecting human resources. Loss of key personnel due to ergonomics injuries can be a costly problem, especially in smaller organizations.
- Identifying waste. By evaluating elements such as motion and exertion, it is possible to identify and eliminate wasted activity.
- Offsetting the limitations of an aging workforce. Making ergonomic adaptations can help older workers be as productive as younger ones, if not more so.
- Reduced turnover. Employees working in uncomfortable environments that cause them pain are more likely to seek other employment and leave.
- Reduced absenteeism. Absenteeism can be an indicator of the early stages of a musculoskeletal disorder. “Work that hurts doesn’t exactly encourage people to come in every day,” says MacLeod.
- Improved morale. Frustration, aches, and pains caused by ergonomic problems are likely to affect morale—and not in a good way!
- More engaged employees. Ergonomic improvements directly benefit employees, and this serves as a positive reinforcement for participation.
- Improved labor relations. Ergonomic issues can be a source of positive labor/management problem solving. This collaboration can extend to other aspects of the work environment.
- Resurgence of “methods engineering.” Methods engineering is an old business efficiency technique that seeks to reduce costs and optimize reliability by analyzing task performance. Ergonomics brings these ideas back in a valuable “new and improved” format, says MacLeod.
- Linking to LEAN. Ergonomics, with its emphasis on waste reduction, can help businesses advance their LEAN programs.
- Keep regulators at bay. OSHA has issued some historically high fines for ergonomics violations.
MacLeod adds that humans have been “doing ergonomics” for thousands of years. It’s a proven practice. He points to examples such as the stone ax and the wheel.
In addition, ergonomics can provide valuable insights that can lead to other improvements. Any new perspective in the workplace helps leaders identify ways to improve and motivates them to make improvements that result in higher profits.