As an executive, you probably spend a lot more time thinking about economics than ergonomics. But ergonomics, the applied science of maximizing productivity by reducing employee fatigue and discomfort, may be able to help your business.
“Whether you work at a desk, a factory line or you’re driving a truck, ergonomics is something that needs to be addressed across all industries,” says Jonathan Theders, president of Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc.
“Often it’s related just to safety, or some people look at it as a barrier to do business — a cost we must incur to get our keyboards at the right height or our piece of machinery to where we’re not bending to use it. In all actuality, any costs incurred are far outweighed by the benefits of increased productivity, worker safety and efficiency.”
Smart Business spoke with Theders about how to find ergonomic problems in your business and solve them.
Why should businesses consider ergonomics in their workplaces?
It’s about keeping people well and preventing losses. Poor ergonomic conditions are directly tied to workplace injuries. Studies show 40 to 75 percent of recordable workplace injuries happened because of poor ergonomic conditions.
Some of the most common pains people get are in their neck and lower back, shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands, especially through repetitive motions. If employees’ desks are not set up in the proper fashion, or they are regularly bending or twisting in their regular tasks, that is what leads to injury.
Once one worker gets injured, there is a heightened risk for additional injuries. The injured employee is usually replaced with someone who is asked to perform unfamiliar duties. They are tired and overworked, which makes them more susceptible to injury. Productivity suffers, too. When people work in awkward or uncomfortable positions, they are more likely to make mistakes.
Having good ergonomic programs in place can cut workers’ compensation costs 60 to 90 percent. So the ROI can be very substantial.
How can businesses find ways to improve ergonomics in the workplace?
When you manage ergonomics correctly, you are looking at overall systems and the way procedures work. What almost always happens is you have other continuous improvements or benefits that come out of it.
Look at how people exert themselves on a daily basis, like the way they reach for things in their workspace. Focus on awkward postures, tasks or objects that create force, pressure, and keep an eye on duration and frequency. Anytime you prevent or reduce exertion, or take a process and simplify it, you are ultimately going to increase efficiency.
Encourage employees to warm-up before work — to take five minutes to stretch. That stretching can be their best ward against injuries. Teach proper lifting techniques. From an ergonomic standpoint, if something in the flow of the business is causing them to twist their bodies, the increase in productivity, speed, efficiency and accuracy from preventing it will definitely outweigh any of the costs.
How can you tell if your ergonomic improvements are working?
People often forget to monitor these changes. When you implement change or a new ergonomic procedure or piece of equipment, it’s important to follow up and check if it’s working. Use the new procedure or equipment for a few weeks or a month and talk about if it is making a difference.
However, sometimes ideas don’t work and they become a nuisance. People start to avoid the new procedures and they become part of the problem. So take the time to assess the impact. You could find that it is perfect, or you may need to make tweaks or go in a completely different direction.
Jonathan Theders is president at Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. Reach him at (513) 779-2800 or [email protected]
Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc.