Study suggests participatory ergonomics can mean huge savings for companies

Mari-Len De Guzman
February 28, 2014
Written by
Feb. 28, 2014 — In observance of International Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day, Toronto-based research firm Institute for Work and Health (IWH) is urging organizations to add participatory ergonomics to their roster of musculoskeletal disorder prevention efforts.
Participatory ergonomics (PE) involves workers, supervisors and other workplace parties working together to identify and address work-related risks that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs include injuries to muscles, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissues, and are among the leading causes of absence due to work-related injury.

The IWH has published a study, led by senior scientist Emile Tompa, that showed PE programs can be beneficial to an organization’s bottom line. The study followed a shirt manufacturer’s implementation of a PE program.  The report showed the manufacturer saved money from reductions in five areas: number of first-aid only workplace injuries, number of injuries requiring modified duties, number of casual absenteeism days, number and length of long-term sickness absences, and number of product rejects. A previous case study in another mid-sized manufacturer, also led by Tompa, resulted in similar findings. An auto parts maker saved almost $245,000 after implementing a PE program.

“We analyzed a PE program at a shirt manufacturer in southwestern Ontario that employed up to 295 workers, comparing the costs of setting up the program with its benefits,” said Tompa. “We learned that, for every dollar the company spent on the program, it saved $5.50, for a total net benefit of almost $295,000 over a four-year period.”

The article on Tompa’s study, which appeared in the May 2013 issue of the journal Applied Ergonomics, was awarded the best-paper honour by the publication. The award is given to the article that best demonstrates “the comprehensive application of ergonomics in a clear and interesting fashion.”

Tompa will receive the award on April 9 in Southampton, U.K., during the annual conference of the Institute for Ergonomics and Human Factors.

These economic evaluation case studies follow up on previous research at the IWH about what it takes to implement effective PE programs. Led by associate scientist Dwayne Van Eerd, the research resulted in a number of recommendations included in a booklet called, Reducing MSD Hazards in the Workplace: A Guide to Successful Participatory Ergonomics Programs.

“The guide is a good place to get started,” says Van Eerd. “By following its advice, whatever PE process follows will likely be more successful.”

The International RSI Awareness Day is observed annually on the last day of February.

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