Can a proper workstation boost your company’s bottom line? Is the investment worth it? The answer to both questions is yes.
Ergonomics is the creation and arrangement of a workspace to fit an employee’s physical needs. A company’s biggest expense is its employees. Generally, over 33% of an organization's budget is spent on compensation, benefits, and training. In order to get the maximum return on this investment, providing workers with appropriate tools and setting is essential.
Costs of Poor Ergonomics
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that workers’ compensation claims cost companies over $15-20 billion each year in direct expenses, such as medical and legal reimbursements, along with the workers’ compensation payments. Indirect costs can be up to 20 times more. These include lost productivity, hiring and training temporary staff, equipment repair and validation, implementation of corrective measures, and employee absenteeism. (Learn more in "A Look at Lower Back Pain in the Workplace".)
Poorly-planned or one-size-fits-all workstations put employees at risk if they are required to:
- Work in stationary or uncomfortable positions (static posture)
- Reach or stretch to complete a task
- Maintain an awkward body angle, including the neck
- Lift or carry heavy objects (including power grip tasks)
- Repeat the same motion for long periods, such as wrist movements (radial/ulnar deviation) for office workers
- Use excessive force
- Be exposed to temperature extremes
- Work more than eight hours in a shift
Benefits of Ergonomics
A simple solution to avoiding the costs associated with staff injury and impaired productivity is to include an ergonomics program as part of the company’s culture and financial strategy. The benefits of ergonomic workstations have been well studied and documented. (Learn more in "The Importance of Setting up Ergonomic Workstations for Office Workers".) Some benefits include the following.
- Avoiding musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by poor alignment, vibration, muscle strain, mechanical contact stress, or repetition. MSDs develop over time, eventually resulting in 34% of all lost work-related injuries and condition. Employees with severe MSD injuries can become permanently disabled. With ergonomics, the injury rate drops along with workers’ compensation claims.
- Reducing absenteeism related to MSDs and injuries. Employees need less time from work due to fatigue, muscle, and joint pain. They require fewer medical appointments, treatments and procedures, or physical therapy sessions.
- Creating an increase in product quality because employees are not fatigued or physically exerted. (Learn more in "Breaks During Work Are Necessary for Employee Well-Being and Work Performance".) This is especially important as part of fatigue management for night shift workers. (Learn more in "Fatigue Management in Night Shift Workers and Employer Risks".) With proper tools and workstations, they are able to complete tasks that meet production standards.
- Improving efficiency and productivity when employees have everything they need within reach and at the correct height, reducing the need for overreaching and pushing past joint limits (hyperflexion). An ergonomic workstation means less twisting, bending, lifting, or straining to view a monitor.
- Improving employee engagement, morale, and loyalty, when workers see that the company is investing in their health and safety. When they can work in a pleasant environment, employees have better morale and willingness to be involved in their jobs.
- Decreases in job turnover because employee satisfaction is high and the need to replace workers due to injury or illness is reduced. A study by University of Warwick showed that when employees were happy, productivity increased by 12%.
- Prevention of future injuries and conditions caused by employees inventing shortcuts to make their tasks easier and more comfortable. In an ergonomics program, everyone is encouraged to report when they encounter a problem that hinders their job.
Costs of Ergonomics
How much does it cost to give employees ergonomic workstations? Of course, it depends on the industry and the size of the company. A good way to start is to get an analysis from an ergonomic professional. (Learn more in "10 Important Ergonomic Aids for Office Workers".) Then compare the cost of an appropriate workstation to the costs of medical care and absenteeism for typical injuries and conditions in employees with similar positions.
Example of ergonomic improvement prices from the Mayo Clinic:
Sit-and-stand work surface: $600
Adjustable chair: $150
Keyboard wrist rest: $15
Computer keyboard: $80
Headset for frequent phone calls: $40
Typical injury or condition costs for carpal tunnel syndrome:
Average cost of carpal tunnel syndrome surgery: $29,000
Time off of work following surgery: 4-6 weeks
Average total recovery time can be up to six months
Example of ergonomic improvement price:
Adjustable height workbench with locking casters: $800
Adjustable height stool: $150
Anti-fatigue mat: $150
Tool mounts and arms: varies by industry
Total: $1100 plus tool mounts and arms
Typical injury or condition costs for an assembly line operator, from Assembly Magazine:
Average cost of trigger finger surgery: $5,000+
Additional hand therapy is usually required
Time off for manual labor jobs: 3-4 weeks
Average total recovery time can be up to three months
Employers should note that OSHA does not specify measures for an ergonomics program, but they can still be held responsible for work-related ergonomic issues under the General Duty Clause.
Additional Study Evidence
- International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics did a study in 2003 with a printed circuit assembly factory. After ergonomic improvements, the factory saved $574,560 in rejection costs. Every month, the rejection rate fell. Revenues and productivity increased.
- In a call center, which relies heavily on computers, employees were split into four groups (a control group and three levels of intervention) to determine how ergonomics influenced productivity. Ergonomics found that the control group had a decrease of 3.46%, while the groups with the ergonomic improvements had a 4.87% increase—a difference of 8.33%.
The impact of ergonomics on the productivity, safety, and satisfaction of employees is reflected in a company’s financial success. Investment in ergonomic improvements benefits both employers and employees. (Learn more in "Ergonomics: Everything You Need to Know About Office Chairs".)
“Ergonomics: The Study of Work” is a booklet by OSHA. It describes risk factors, a lengthy discussion about MSDs, and how to implement an ergonomics program in the workplace.
“Examples of costs and benefits of ergonomics,” complied by the Puget Sound Human Factors and Ergonomic Society. The report contains 250 case studies from all types of companies, listing what ergonomic measures were taken and the outcomes. Costs are included for many of the case studies.