The answer is that ergonomics can make good, strategic business sense, but the effort must be deployed correctly. Ergonomics initiatives have been credited with saving companies from $2 million per year in workers compensation costs (AlliedSignal, 1999 Applied Ergonomics Conference) to $1.2 million per year in reduced product build costs (Lucent Technologies, 2001 Applied Ergonomics Conference). The flip side to this is that hundreds of ergonomics initiatives do not achieve any measurable results. Many initiatives incur readily apparent costs, such as those for ineffective training, expensive solutions that don’t solve the facility’s problem, and wasted time in committee meetings with little progress, while concrete results have yet to materialize.
For ergonomics to make business sense, it must be deployed as a business initiative. A few characteristics that can be applied to any successful business improvement plan are:
- A logical sequence of plan-do-check-act that non-technical managers can understand. By aligning your ergonomics activities with the PDCA continuous improvement cycle, you will ensure that your efforts are targeted at the highest priority concerns and that solutions adequately address identified problems.
- Effective methods for evaluating potential problems and solutions which yield clear priorities. Most ergonomics improvement initiatives invest a great deal of time in job analysis, yet many analysis techniques are flawed – they either require too much time or don’t provide sufficient detail to pinpoint the problem.
- Continuous attention to the improvement of the existing environment and an upstream focus on new product/process introductions. An ergonomics initiative that only addresses the current workplace misses the opportunity for low-cost, high-impact improvements to next year’s workplace. Yet, a sole focus on the future will leave many immediate improvement opportunities unrealized and potentially put workers at risk of injury.
- Swift implementation of changes only when everyone agrees that the benefit will be greater than the cost (financially and otherwise). Well-conceived ergonomics improvements often enhance quality and productivity. Capturing the dollar value associated with these will turbocharge your ergonomics program.
These points will be explored in further detail as a four-part series in The Ergonomics Report