The health impact and economic burden of workplace musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) are well documented. For example, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada reported that one in every 65 employed workers in 2009 were injured or harmed while on the job and subsequently received workers compensation. A large portion of these were musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs). The Canadian economic burden of MSIs alone account for $2.65 – 3.94 billion dollars in direct costs and $13.73 – $18.37 billion dollars in indirect costs! Those are HUGE numbers!! If you are unfamiliar with Canada, to place these figures into perspective, back in 2009 Canada had a population of about 30 million people.
Ergonomics is often viewed as a mandated component of a health and safety (OHS) program, rather than a component of an effective business strategy. In a common sense approach, we all know that ergonomics reduces injuries and by doing so can save any organization money (of course, pending an excellent ergonomics process)! Past research has demonstrated that office ergonomics interventions contributes to enhance workers’ health, well-being, and there is significant information available illustrating a very positive return on investment (with ROI estimates ranging from 3:1 to 15:1). Despite this publicized information, there still seems to be a large knowledge gap for the value of ergonomics, especially with management. I’ve seen this many times in companies that I have consulted with before: it can be difficult to start an ergonomics initiative and even harder to get sufficient money to make even the most required purchases to reduce ergonomic risk. The struggle is real my friends.
This is why showing the cost-effectiveness of ergonomics initiatives or programs are critical to gain the financial support from management. There are many approaches to determine the cost-effectiveness of ergonomics, the key thing is selecting the right equation based on the data that you have available. In the most simplest sense, here is a basic return-on-investment calculation:
This gives you a really straightforward and simple approach to determine the value of an ergonomics program. Many of us can just plop in some values and have at it immediately. Some examples of ergonomic program costs would be worker’s compensation rates, musculoskeletal injury rates, or even lost work days. And, costs associated with the program may be new equipment, re-design, retro-fit, training, or consulting fees.
With today’s post I wanted to give you some useful advice on what would be valuable to include in a cost justification that will surely grab the attention of upper-level management. There are obviously many different types of cost justification tools that are available to use and apply in your organization. But, the key thing is identifying what would work with the information or data available to you in your organization. Some people may not have access to all injury data or total dollars spent. The key is to work within your available parameters. Here’s another item to consider: results from ergonomics programs can take time! You may be excited to see how your ergonomics initiative is coming along, but to show its full effect, you need to have a suitable amount of time for comparison. Don’t let this stop you in identifying positive trends in some of your measurable outcomes because this can be very exciting for you and management to observe, just be aware that the final results may be a little different.
Following the same type of framework to our very simple example above, here are 3 areas that you may consider using for your return-on-investment calculation:
- Injury logs (OSHA in the States)
- Number of office related musculoskeletal incidents
- Days away from work
- Days on restricted work or job transfer
- Injury severity
- Workers’ Compensation Claims
- Internal ergonomics data
- Total dollars spent on office equipment
- Number of assessments
- Average cost/person (from equipment purchases)
- Type of equipment purchased
Remember, ideally ergonomics programs should result in lower worker’s compensation claims, fewer lost work days, and reduced work-related musculoskeletal injuries, and fewer injury and illness rates.
Bidassie, B., McGlothlin, J., Goh, A., Feyen, R. & Barany, J. (2010). Limited economic evaluation to assess the effectiveness of a university-wide office ergonomics program. Applied Ergonomics. 41, 417-427.