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:
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:
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:
Added benefits of user-adjustable worksurfaces:
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
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2011-08-02.