Workers with common pains like backaches or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) may be present at work but a study published last fall in the Journal of the American Medicine Association (JAMA) indicates that the productivity lost from those common pains can equal big financial losses for businesses.
Over 28,000 working adults in the United States participated in phone interviews for the study, intended to help determine exactly how much productive time was being lost due to common pains in the workplace. Researchers found that headaches were the most common pain condition resulting in lost productive time (5.4 percent of respondents), followed by back pain (3.2 percent), arthritis pain (2.0 percent) and other musculoskeletal pain (2.0 percent).
On the average, workers who reported losing time to a common pain condition lost an average of 4.6 hours per week. Interestingly, the researchers found that the time lost wasn’t being spent recovering from the pain at home, it was logged as reduced performance by the employees while on the job. Researchers estimated that those periods of reduced productivity cost businesses $61.2 billion each year.
In an article regarding the hidden costs of musculoskeletal pain in the June, 2004 edition of Canadian Occupational Health magazine, Dr. Heather Tick, clinical director for the RSI Clinic in Toronto notes that best way to combat the problem with lost productivity from common pains is to fix the problems in the workplace that could be contributing to the pain.
“It is far better to be proactive in tackling this, to recognize a problem early and to treat it, because then you don’t have people who are severely injured, miss work and thereby impact a company’s productivity,” Tick told the publication.
As an example of how ergonomics can cure the small pains that cost businesses big dollars, the publication recounts the story of a Canadian motorhome manufacturer that set out to tackle work-related MSDs. The first step for the company, Home and Park Motorhomes, was to determine how much it was costing the company for employees to recover from MSDs, particularly in regard to the expenses associated with time away from work, retraining other employees and reduced duties for workers who were unable to work at their full potential. The company’s next step was to bring in an ergonomics firm to assist with workplace assessments, involve the employees in finding solutions and develop recommendations to improve the work environment.
Ultimately the ergonomics improvements literally paid off for Home and Park Motorhomes, reports Canadian Occupational Health. In addition to the resulting productivity boost, prior to the ergonomics improvements the company was being fined by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) for having excessive injuries; now, thanks to ergonomics, the company receives regular refunds from the WSIB for having injury rates that are well below industry standards.
Sources: JAMA; Canadian Occupational Health