August 2nd, 2011

Evidence: Investing in Adjustable Workstations Produces Healthy ROI

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[Editore’s note: This article is reprinted, with permission, from The Ergonomics Report™, Ergoweb’s popular subscription-based online publication.]

Introduction

We know from Goldilocks and from the science of ergonomics that one-size does not fit all.  And we know that having the best fit in the workstation can improve comfort, safety and productivity. But how much is this “best-fit” worth?  How can you justify the added expense to purchase hundreds or thousands of adjustable workstations?

One method I’ve successfully used is to calculate the Total Cost of Ownership and compare the options side-by-side.

In my previous job as the Global Ergonomics Manager with a large financial firm, my colleagues and I noted a couple of interesting trends from our injury surveillance:

  • Our Minnesota facility had user-adjustable furniture plus a proactive ergonomics program with professional staff and enjoyed the lowest workers compensation rates in the company.
  • Our New York facility had only 10% of the population in non-adjustable workstations; however, they accounted for 20% of all ergo issues.
  • Our Florida facility had a majority of the population in non-adjustable furniture and had by far the highest workers compensation costs in the company.

These trends led us to look more closely at the relationship between the type of workstation (user-adjustable vs. fixed-height) and costs for Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs).

Our case study compared two nearly equal sized groups of employees (6200 total) that were closely matched for job functions, access & exposure to on-line ergonomics training, and on-site medical and safety services. We queried 3-year MSD cost data to reduce the chances that we were looking at anomalies.  We analyzed both Personal Health Care data and Workers Compensation data for MSDs. The Personal Health Care data was included to see if perhaps there might be Work Comp under-reporting by either group.

Here are the MSD costs for these groups:

  • Each group had similar 3-year costs for Personal MSD’s reported to Health Insurance
    • User-adjustable group: $32,900 Personal MSD cost/ 100 workers
    • Non-adjustable group: $25,600 Personal MSD cost/ 100 workers
  • The 3050 employees in Non-adjustable furniture had 20 times more Work Related MSD expenses over the 3-year period
    • User-adjustable group: $3,500 Work Related MSD cost/ 100 workers
    • Non-adjustable group: $74,300 Work Related MSD cost/ 100 workers

Discussion

  • When considering all types of MSD costs (Personal + Workers Comp) we see a three-fold increase in cost for the employees in the non-adjustable workstations.
  • When considering only the Work Related MSD cost we see the employees in the non-adjustable workstation had 20 times more direct injury MSD expenses.

The 3-year MSD costs alone could justify adding user adjustable features.  However, the Total Cost of Ownership is even higher when considering the additional costs for providing ergonomic accommodation in the fixed-height workstation. Additional costs related to non-adjustable workstations include:

  • Cost for Safety, Medical and Facilities staff time on adjustments: $100+
  • Cost for ergonomic equipment (Keytray etc.): $100+
  • Cost for lost productivity by affected worker: (easily -10% of workday)

Added benefits of user-adjustable worksurfaces:

  • No additional Safety, Medical or Facilities staff time to make adjustments with routine moves or churn
  • Enables desk sharing/ multi-shift work/ and flex work arrangements such as home working

Summary

The Total Cost of Ownership analysis resulted in a positive outcome with purchasing and real estate departments.  This study demonstrated a strong return on investment for user-adjustable furniture and helped influence furniture standards in this company.  Based on the reduced MSD costs we found that the additional upfront cost was recovered in less than 3 years.  With a useful service life of more than 10 years for the furniture, the projected savings are considerable.

These results are consistent with a number of other studies demonstrating a positive return on investment in ergonomic furniture and in an ergonomic process.  We also noted that user-adjustable furniture plus a proactive ergonomics process results in the best return as demonstrated at the Minneapolis office. Many other office & industrial ergonomics case studies can be found on the Puget Sound HFES web site: www.pshfes.org

Gene Kay has translated these and other bottom-line ergonomics strategies into ErgoAdvocate, an office ergonomics training, evaluation, self-help and management system for large employers, and now leads ErgoAdvocate LLC, a Ergoweb joint-venture. Request a demo of ErgoAdvocate.

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2011-08-02.



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