From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

New Resource a Tool for Finding Suitable Ergonomics Programs

Other people’s experience provides a useful way to learn about the most effective ergonomics programs. A new study from Washington state presents 250 “lessons.”

They can be found in the paper, “Estimating the effectiveness of ergonomics interventions through case studies: Implications for predictive cost-benefit analysis,” published in the May/June 2008 issue of the Journal of Safety Research ( Authors Richard W. Goggins, Peregrin Spielholz and Greg L. Nothstein note in their introduction that the results provide an opportunity to develop cost-benefit analysis (CBA) models for different work settings, such as healthcare, office or industrial. The results “also provide guidance in different situations for implementing a comprehensive program versus an individual control measure,” they write.

The study was built from 250 case histories of ergonomics programs that have been introduced with varying results over the years. The researchers used metrics such as injuries, productivity, turnover, absenteeism and the payback period to assess the effectiveness of the programs.

To assess the measures that did the best job of reducing the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and other workplace health and safety issues, the researchers broke down individual control measures according to the type of risk factor they addressed. Lifting and awkward postures are two of the examples. The breakdown also categorized strategies for eliminating or reducing the risk factors, such as substituting mechanical equipment for manual lifting, improving the location of the lift or reducing the weight of the object to be lifted.

In July The Ergonomics Report™, a sister publication for subscribers with a professional need for comprehensive information about current ergonomics issues, asked the principal author about the purpose of the study. Richard Goggins, M.S. CPE, a senior ergonomist with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ Consultation Services group said the intention was to get more information to employers and practitioners who are trying to make cost justifications and don’t have their own numbers to plug into a model. “One of the things we hear from the business community is that they perceive ergonomics as a cost. That’s one of the main reasons they give for not doing more in the way of ergonomics. They all recognize that musculoskeletal disorders are common and very expensive injuries, and they’d like to do more about them, but they see ergonomics as being too costly and they are unsure of what direction to go in.”

He added that it allows a look at an individual case to say, for example: “All right, we’d like to put in a scissor lift and raise the height of the work that’s being done, so what kind of percentage reduction in injuries and costs can we expect from that? And how might that impact productivity?”

The ergonomist added that if the study gets out the message that the intervention is more of an investment than a cost, then the time spent finding the right solution might seem more worthwhile to employers.

The Labor and Industries researchers worked on a joint project with the Puget Sound Chapter of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (PSHFES) to develop a cost-benefit analysis tool based on the study results. The tool, along with supporting documents, is available as a free download from the PSHFES web site (

Source: Richard W. Goggins; Journal of Safety Research