According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), US employers pay almost $1 billion per week for direct workers’ compensation costs. Direct costs include workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses, and legal service fees. There are also indirect costs including implementation of corrective measures, accident investigation, lost productivity, training replacement employees, and absenteeism. OSHA studies report that these indirect costs can be up to 20 times higher than the direct costs.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most common type of reported workplace injury. Examples of MSDs include back strains/sprains, tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, epicondylitis, rotator cuff injuries, and neck conditions. In 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that MSDs accounted for 31 percent of the total cases for workers’ compensation claims.
Work-related MSDs happen when the physical requirements of the job don’t match the physical capabilities of the employee. A leading cause of MSDs is prolonged exposure to ergonomic risk factors such as repetitive activities, poor positioning, forceful motions, and extended time in static positions. These conditions and the associated cost can be prevented by using the ergonomically correct equipment, redesigning workstations, and improving workflow.
4 Ways Proper Ergonomics in the Workplace Reduces Employers’ Cost in 2019
- Workers’ Compensation Expenses
- Ergonomics Programs
- Implementing Ergonomic Solutions
- Reducing Employers Costs
Workers’ Compensation Expenses
Many workers’ compensation cases require long-term medical care, extended time off work, and legal services. Long-term medical care can include rehabilitation services, adaptive equipment, and surgical interventions. Along with rising insurance premiums, these medical expenses have a substantial impact on the employer’s bottom line.
An injured employee may be ordered to take time off work until his condition is resolved and he is able to return to full duty without restrictions. During this time, employers must pay workers compensation payments. They may also need to train replacement employees to cover the job tasks left by the absent employee. Team productivity may be reduced causing lower revenue for the company.
Workers’ compensation cases can require legal expenses and accident investigation services. These costs can be significant due to premium rates and prolonged duration of the conditions. Some cases take several months to a year to resolve. Employers may also be ordered to pay a large financial settlement for cases that result in chronic disability.
Merrimack-Webster defines ergonomics as “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.” Ergonomics may also be called human engineering or human factors studies.
Ergonomics programs encompass changes to tools, workstations, and workflow to improve comfort and maximize efficiency. An effective ergonomics program should include four phases: Plan, Do, Check, Act.
- Plan: This stage should assess the risks for musculoskeletal disorders, identify areas of focus, prioritize these areas, and establish improvement plans.
- Do: In this phase, employers will implement the changes recommended in the improvement plan. These changes could include redesigning the workspace, adding ergonomic equipment, or creating training programs.
- Check: This phase is for reassessing the risk factors and monitoring the improvement plan. Employers should verify that all aspects of the plan have been implemented properly.
- Act: During this phase, employers create standardized systems for implementing ergonomic solutions and training. They share the results with management and staff, then move to the next area of focus.
Implementing Ergonomic Solutions
Ergonomic solutions can be broken into three categories: tools, workstations/environment, and workflow. In an office setting, ergonomic tools such as specially designed keyboards, mice, monitors, and writing instruments can reduce repetitive strain and postural strain for employees. Desk, chairs, keyboard trays, and add on standing desks make up the workstation or work environment. Proper ergonomic workstations decrease strain, but they also improve biomechanical efficiency and productivity. Workflow describes the processes, methods, and movements required to perform job tasks. Modifying workflow can avoid repetitive, redundant, and strenuous activities to reduce injury risk.
Ergonomic workstations can have the most significant impact on injury risk and employee productivity. The basic components of an office workstation are the chair and desk. There are thousands of chairs on the market ranging from basic to highly specialized. Proper ergonomic seating will reduce or eliminate strain on the neck, back, and shoulders. It is most important for chairs to be supportive and adjustable.
Desks are the hub of employee workstations and they’re where the work actually gets done. Standing desks have become popular over the last few years. They are available in fixed, manually adjustable, and electrically adjustable forms. Adjustable standing desks allow employees to work in either sitting or standing positions. Manually adjusted desks typically use a crank to raise or lower the work surface. They are less expensive, but electrically adjustable desks are much easier to adjust.
Desktop converters are an excellent alternative to replacing employees’ entire desks. These products are a more cost effective way to convert standard desks into standing desks. The converter sits on top of an existing desk to raise the height of the keyboard, mouse, and monitor. They come is a variety of configurations including dual monitor and those with a shelf to accommodate laptops.
Reducing Employer Costs
When developing ergonomic programs, employers should consider including employee awareness training, implementing corrective policies, promoting good work habits, and installing appropriate ergonomic workstations. These factors should help to decrease the number of injuries each year. Fewer workers’ compensation cases results in lower medical expenses, reduced need for legal services, and less risk for paying large financial settlements. Implementing good ergonomic programs also leads to lower absentee rates, improved employee satisfaction, and no loss in productivity. Ergonomic programs can reduce an employer’s direct and indirect workers’ compensation costs by 60-90 percent.