Ergonomics Makes Cents!!!

Written By:
Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, and CSP and
Candice Kowalewski, MPH

June 26, 2015

Ergonomics is the science of designing the workplace, and keeping in mind the capabilities and limitations of the worker. Poor worksite design leads to fatigued, frustrated, and hurting workers. This rarely leads to the most productive employee. More likely, it leads to a painful and costly injury, absenteeism, lower productivity, and poor product quality. Injuries that may arise and cause startling costs to an employer are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), including tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and back pain.

Prevent or Treat Early

Ergonomics makes sense, both logically and monetarily. Early action is particularly important when addressing MSDs because they tend to be treatable and less expensive in the early stages but irreversible and very expensive later.

Prevention is Most Cost Effective

Having a preventative ergonomic evaluation is cost and time effective and is primarily used for employees who are not experiencing physical discomfort. More time is necessary for a comprehensive ergonomic evaluation for providing an in-depth work area assessment for employees that have indicated that they are experiencing work-related physical discomfort.

Evaluations for Office or Factory

An Ergonomics written evaluation can be completed in an office setting, laboratory, manufacturing (production, packaging, line assembly, warehousing), and welding. Education doesn’t have to stop either in the workplace. By learning to identify and understand Ergonomic risk factors, information may be helpful during traveling, using your laptop at home, or even when using your cell phone.

…..So how will you know if you are saving money?

Find out the savings that an Ergonomic program could potentially bring by first establishing a base line beforehand, and then you can compare pre- and post- costs. To do so, compile data regarding the company’s expenditures on workplace injuries. What were the costs of a particular on-the-job injury or illness, (lost workdays, salary to temporary workers covering shifts and increased worker’s compensation insurance premiums, as well as costs of any injuries and first-aid cases)?
The OSHA 300, 300A, and 301 forms can provide some of this information. (The OSHA law requires most employers with 10 or more full-time employees to keep a yearly log of all work-related injuries and illnesses.) Worker’s Compensation records can show the rest, and even supplement the OSHA logs.

Look for patterns of “presenteeism,” when employees physically show up but may be in too much pain or fatigue to be productive. The other indicator of work- related discomfort is absenteeism. Other employees might pick up the slack for their injured and absent coworkers, which might end up passing along physical strain or stress.

Consider the cost of the average salary of an employee, the lost workdays, and the training and pay of temporary replacement workers as you develop a baseline to later evaluate your ergonomic program.
Worker’s compensation claims — For example, medical costs and workers’ compensation claims for one serious back injury case can run up to or even exceed $85,000.

Take a look at the demonstrated results OSHA reported after bringing management, unions and employees together to cooperatively identify potential hazards and ergonomic health risks for the Postal Service transforming their workplace safety and health ergonomic program into a model for both the public and private sector. American Postal Workers Union, National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the U.S. Postal Service entered into an Ergonomic Strategic Partnership in 2003:


Ergonomic Risk Reduction Process (ERRP) sites in the process for the full three years have experienced the most dramatic results:

  • a 38% reduction in the MSD Recordable rate
  • a 40% reduction in Handling & Lifting rate

ERRP sites are experiencing greater success than non-ERRP sites:

  • MSD rates are 35% less in ERRP sites
  • Handling & Lifting rates are 18% less in ERRP sites
  • A $1.8 million savings in workers’ compensation medical costs (a 39% reduction)
  • More than 77,000 employees have been trained
  • Nearly 7,000 ergonomic task analyses have been conducted and 3,600 fixes have been implemented

Many ergonomic improvements can be implemented with low capital expenditures.

Engineering, Administrative, and Personal Protective Equipment

The first choice is always to eliminate or substitute the hazard. Process modification modifies the work process to eliminate or reduce the exposure. Administrative controls procedures are not procedural but are ways to limit an individual’s time in the area where the exposures are occurring. (This technique is often used to manage ergonomic issues and rely on staffing behavior). Effectiveness of solutions based on Oxenburgh’s (1991) assumptions & review of 250 case studies of ergonomics interventions. Effectiveness estimates were taken from the low end of the range to be conservative.

  • Solutions that eliminate hazard (e.g., lift equipment, semi-automation) 70% effective.
  • Solutions that reduce level of exposure (e.g., adjustable workstations, reduced weight of lift) 40% effective.
  • Solutions that reduce time of exposure (e.g., job rotation) 15% effective.
  • Solutions that rely on employee behavior (e.g., training only, team lifting) 10% effective.
  • Percentage reduction in claims = percentage reduction in claims costs = percentage reduction in indirect costs.

Successful Ergonomic programs should be engaging and integrated into daily routines. If possible, consider occasionally holding company meetings during walks. Walking meetings offer physical activity that fits into the day, energized and more alert participants, improved physical and mental well-being. Afternoon walking meetings can help revive dwindling energy. Since locations vary, indoor walks were found to be just as effective for boosting creativity as outdoor walks.

For useful tips about walking meetings visit Feet First:

Atlantic Environmental Inc. can meet with you and spend time with your employees at their job site to conduct a preventative or comprehensive ergonomic evaluation. This will include:

Preventative Ergonomic Evaluation

    • 35 to 40 minute one-on-one evaluation
    • employee ergonomic education
    • workstation measurements that include desktop, chair, and monitor height to establish the correct fit between the employee and their office furniture
    • identification of ergonomic risk factors (if any)
    • recommendations for equipment and workstation adjustments (if needed) in the employee’s workstation
    • written documentation of our findings and our recommendations

Comprehensive Ergonomic Evaluation

  • 60 to 75 minute one-on-one evaluation
  • employee ergonomic education
  • interview discussing employee physical discomfort, concerns, and medical history (when applicable)
  • workstation measurements (specific to work area) to establish the correct fit between the employee and their work environment,
  • identification of ergonomic risk factors (if any)
  • recommendations for equipment and workstation adjustments (if needed) in the employee’s workstation
  • photographs documenting current risk factors, products and postures
  • written documentation of our findings and our recommendations

Atlantic Environmental Inc. is ready to help you find ways to save money and prevent injuries in the workplace. For more information, or professional help contact Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP or Candice Kowalewski, MPH at 1-800-344-4414 or at

References – Ergonomics:

Bowden, P. (2012, April 12). 6 steps to managing tension headaches and neck pain.
Retrieved June 22, 2015, from

Evaluation Tools. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from

Examples of costs and benefits of ergonomics. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from

Examples of Good Ergonomics practices at the United States Postal Service. (2007, April 16). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from

How to Cost-Justify Ergonomic Improvements. (2013, February 4). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from

OSHA Small Business | Safety Pays Program – Estimator. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from

Safe Lifting Calculator. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from

Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs) Prevention. (2013, October 23). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from