Does an ergonomics standard make financial sense for workers? According to a recent study of 1,437 Michigan worker cases, the average absolute earnings loss for a worker with a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) is $9,418 (1996-1998 dollars). When categorized into five levels based on the severity of the disorder, the average earnings loss ranged from $15,412 for the most severely injured group, to $7,577 for the least severely injured group.
The study, which sought to determine if an ergonomics standard would have cost benefits for workers, used state required “Known or Suspected Occupational Disease” reports to identify potential sample members. Worker’s compensation claim- and earnings-data were acquired for each case. Absolute values were calculated by comparing what a case-identified worker would normally earn versus what that same worker (with an MSD) actually earned on a quarterly basis for a total of nine quarters. The cases were also stratified for severity based on worker interviews.
The authors point out that an ergonomics standard may have the impact of reducing work-related MSD severity which would in turn have an economic benefit. They offer the example that if the severity of the worst 40% of work-related MSDs in this study were reduced to just “average” injury severity, the earnings loss seen in this study would drop to $6,513 for an injured worker
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-09-22.