The Importance of Ergonomics in the Workplace

5 min read

The quality of our posture has a direct impact on every moment of our lives. When CEOs, supervisors, managers or even employees forget or neglect this simple fact, everyone suffers. The workers suffer strain, stress and injury, and the upper management loses profit and credibility as they head into the future. The subject of the human body as a whole affects every industry, and yet it is not nearly as discussed as its effects warrant.

Ergonomics and their value in the workplace have already been cemented. When an employee needs surgery, treatment or other remedies for their injuries that they developed at work, productivity is lost and resources are expended. The math is simple; poor ergonomics come with a cost, and great posture comes with a reward.

Ergonomics: But Why?

The average work place does not see the issue of employee wellness as it is happening. For example, an employee that is being strained to type at an exceedingly fast pace for a long period of time might be okay for the first week or two, and they may even seem happy with their position. It would be completely reasonable to assume that everything is going smoothly. However, the onset of one of many possible problems is extremely likely to occur.

If their elbows were poorly positioned or improperly supported due to a low-quality desk and chair, there is a high chance that they will develop ulnar fasciitis, or a compression of the nerve running through the elbow. This can cause a myriad of problems for the employee, and these problems will most often fall under the financial responsibility of the employer. In this scenario, both parties suffer due to poor ergonomics. The issue must be addressed immediately.

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In the above example, the employee would need a chair that offered even, distributed support for their arms, neck and back, and the only way to achieve this is in balance with the rest of their body. Adjusting one part of the body too harshly can cause a chain reaction, because other parts of the body have to adapt to the adjustments and carry new weight. This is why ergonomic desks, chairs and other technology must account for the entire body as opposed to one problem area.

While the ulnar nerve example is extremely common, there are many other common problems that are developed by employees, on a daily basis, that could be prevented for a drastically smaller cost than the employee’s medical bills. These tend to involve the neck, arms, and back, but the hips, ankles, knees and even feet can be irreversibly damaged by continued strain in the workplace. Injuries result in very real fees for the employer and severe long-term issues for the employees.

Ergonomics for Employers and Employees

One of the reasons that employers struggle to improve work place ergonomics is that it can be fairly expensive to provide each and every employee with an optimal ergonomic setup. However, when comparing the costs involved with an optimal set up to the costs involved in fixing a workplace injury, ergonomics become a much more attractive option. What’s more is that there are additional benefits to an ergonomic workplace that make them even more valuable.

What the modern-day employer must understand is that a satisfactory ergonomic setup can easily prevent thousands of dollars in medical expenses while improving worker productivity. By keeping workers fresh, comfortable and capable, an ergonomic setup can quickly pay itself off. A great example of this can be found in this blog post about stand up workstations.

As a simple example, consider a worker that makes $200.00 per day and has their productivity improved by a mere five percent. This improves the value of their labor by $10 per day, and after a mere 300 days of on-the-clock work, their productivity will be $3,000 higher than without the ergonomic setup. A quality setup will last for several years and ensure that top performers have a safe, sustainable work environment. That sustainability is what pushes ergonomics over the tipping point from an investment standpoint.

Employees that are not provided with an ergonomic setup must understand that taking responsibility for their posture is highly worthy. First and foremost, ergonomic purchases for work are tax deductible. With that considered, a $1,000.00 purchase at a 30 percent tax rate is only a $700.00 purchase at the end of the year. Over a two year period, this is less than $30.00 per month for a healthier spine, better circulation, a reduced chance of injury, a competitive edge against other employees in competitive work environments and less overall muscular and skeletal strains and pains. There are lots of workers that spend more than $30.00 a month on pizza, and they could easily be making a significantly more valuable investment in themselves.

With that said, neither employees nor employers with financial leeway have any excuse for neglecting ergonomics. The simple fact of the matter is that they are quality investments for either party, and when it comes to business, quality investments of time and resources have always been the difference between long-term success and long-term failure.
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The Value of Continued Health and Training

There is a final, secret value to ergonomics that is paradoxically both perfectly logical and slightly difficult to understand. This value is continued health and training: when a team of people is allowed to perform under ideal circumstances for a long period of time, they gain the momentum of success. While it is clearly possible to achieve success from the momentum of failure, the momentum of success provides different benefits that make work and profit far easier and more productive.

It’s crucial to train your employees about the importance of ergonomics in the workplace. There are many training materials out there that can assist with your training efforts. An example of this would be, Ergonomic Training DVD’s (like this Ergonomic training DVD) that help to show employees how to identify and reduce motion based injuries.

Continued success breeds attention. Whenever a team or company is performing above expectation, those that are performing at or below expectation will look to the higher performers as role models. And as displayed by the longevity of the entire industry of marketing, attention has a financial value. However, it’s quite difficult to create an excellent team of writers when half of them are in danger of carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s difficult to create an excellent team of lawyers when their necks and backs are curving and twisting in ways that might eventually lead to a wheelchair. It’s difficult to be successful when investment capital must be diverted to medical bills and insurance premiums. Ergonomic options remove roadblocks to higher success, and if that were their only benefit, they would still probably be worth the money.

It’s Worth It

The overall message that needs to be spread is that the field of study, industry of manufacturing and practical applications of ergonomic technology are all completely worth the investment. What’s more is that ergonomics offer so many different benefits that a significant portion of existing businesses would profit from ergonomic purchases within the first year, and that is a rare occurrence in many industries.

Whether it’s an employee or an employer, anyone that uses and strains their body with workplace equipment would be living a better life if they merely made their environment more accommodating.

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Antonio Ferraro

On behalf of Creative Safety Supply based in Portland, OR, I strive to provide helpful information to create safer and more efficient industrial work environments. My knowledge base focuses primarily on practices such as 5S, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and the Lean mindset. I believe in being proactive and that for positive change to happen, we must be willing to be transparent and actively seek out areas in need of improvement. An organized, safe, and well-planned work space leads to increased productivity, quality products and happier workplace. Connect with Antonio on Google+