From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Ergonomics Programs Work: The Emperor Has Wonderful Clothes

Sometimes, constantly having to cost-justify the existence of my discipline “Ergonomics” and the value of the ergonomics programs to companies and organizations just makes me so angry!

If everything in the corporate world were cost justified and proved to work, then I wouldn’t mind so much.  However, companies make major assumptions about supposed productivity benefits from investing in new computers, new software, new furniture and even new buildings. Yet seldom is there any check on the return on investment.

Interestingly, ergonomics has considerable positive value in product design; witness the use of the word in advertising everything from cars to sports drinks bottles. But when it comes to implementing ergonomics programs, there can be vehement resistance. So why is ergonomics treated in such different ways? I think the reason is a widespread misunderstanding and ignorance of ergonomics. So if you aren’t already familiar with the value of the ergonomics programs, let me summarize some key considerations below:

  • Ergonomics is a well established applied science that is now over 50 years old. Ergonomics is the science of work and is devoted to maximizing human performance without causing injuries or detrimentally affecting performance. Ergonomics is ALWAYS A BENEFIT for companies, not a cost.
  • An ergonomics program takes a basic, systematic approach and offers businesses a common-sense strategy for eliminating unnecessary musculoskeletal disorders from the workplace. Here are some reasons why this makes good business sense:
    • Good ergonomics programs focus on ways to reduce costs to companies by:
      • reducing injuries
      • reducing absenteeism
      • reducing errors
      • maximizing productivity
  • Workers are the main cost for modern businesses, and businesses need to attract and retain the best talent. You don’t want to hire then inadvertently injure workers — that benefits no one. Ergonomics prevents this.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders are entirely preventable and quite unnecessary injuries that cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars and inflict misery and suffering on affected workers.
  • When ergonomics is an integral part of basic job and workplace design, NOT an afterthought, it’s no more expensive to choose a good ergonomic design for a workplace than to choose a bad design — the difference isn’t economics, it’s education.

Still not convinced of the value of an ergonomics program? Then consider the following published evidence of the value of implementing an ergonomics program:

  • City of Tucson (1995) — 77% decrease in injury hours and 16% decrease in injury incidence. Twelve months payback time.
  • NY Times (1992-1996) — 84% decrease in MSDs, 75% decrease in lost-time cases, 91% decrease in total lost days.
  • Travelers Indemnity Co. (1994-1995) — 30% decrease in MSDs, 48% decrease in medical costs.
  • American Express — 80% decrease from MSD worker’s compensation claims ($484,000 to $98,000).
  • Texas Instruments — 91% decrease in the cost of MSD worker’s compensation claims ($2,600,000 in 1991 to $224,000 in 1996).
  • Ergonomic interventions at 126 Ohio companies showed a mean 41% reduction in injury risk factors and a mean 42% reduction in lost workdays.
  • A review of 98 studies meeting stringent criteria selected from over 600 published articles showed that 84% of all studies reported positive results from an ergonomics program.

In addition to the above, there are numerous other studies that show that a good ergonomics program that educates workers in ergonomics will be extremely cost-effective in preventing musculoskeletal disorders and improving work performance.

A good ergonomics program is ALWAYS in a company’s best interests and will result in more effective work practices. If you’re in business, ergonomics considerations should be as critical to your decision making as economic issues. After all, as Hal Hendrick, the former president of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society writes, “Good Ergonomics is Good Economics.”

Alan Hedge, Ph.D., CPE, is the Director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University.


Gauf, M.  (1998).  “Ergonomics that work:  Case studies of companies cutting costs through ergonomics.” Haverford, PA:  CTDNews.

 “Worker Protection: Private Sector Ergonomics Yield Positive Results”  GAO REPORT HEHS-97-163, 1997.

Hamrick, 2001, Proc. HFES,1, 987-991.

Karsh et al., 2001, Proc. HFES,1, 992-996.

Hendrick, H. 1996, Good Ergonomics Is Good Economics (




This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-03-01.