The Dollar Signs Behind Ergonomics

Ergonomics is a term that people tend to throw around loosely. They assume that ergonomics is a “silly” concept that only includes guidelines on pre-workout stretching and how high your desk should be. But, ergonomics has a much greater ripple effect on the work place. Ergonomics touches everyone from the order selector to the office worker. It affects employees fatigue, injury cost, efficiency, mental well-being and productivity.

Ergonomics is the design of coordinating devices, systems, and physical working conditions to minimize the physical and mental discomfort of the employee. As the definition states, understanding how every aspect improves or hinders the next piece of the process. It does not simply affect one portion of the process; it is the relationship between all parts of the process. When looking to improve ergonomics, one must understand and view the whole process. Ergonomically, one must understand all of the interactions, because each step is not a silo; it directly is related to how the previous step ended. The benefits are assumed to be intangible items, such as better flow or fewer neck problems, when in reality there are hard dollar savings to be gained through ergonomics. Savings include fatigue, injury costs, well-being and productivity.

Fatigue correlates with the physical strains of a job and how this impacts the employee. When building standards, time is allocated due to the fatigue of the job. Physical motions outside of the normal range cause more time to be given to an employee to safely complete the task. While picking, fatigue plays a large role in the health of an employee. For example, understanding how much excess bending and reaching for boxes occurs to place them on a high cubed pallet adds time into the labor standard. If a pick path is organized correctly, the employee is doing a majority of his or her work in the ergonomic power zone (i.e., no excessive reaching or bending). This allows for the standard to include less time for such movements. Not allowing the cube size to get too large allows the employee to work more easily and allows for a lesser amount of fatigue given in the standard. While this time is given as a mere one to two seconds per case, over an eight hour day and 40 workers, that time adds up quickly.

Personal injury is also a large expense to companies. When a company understands the ergonomics of a job, it can lessen the strain, which leads to injuries on the job. When a delivery driver is continually bending improperly and reaching for packages on a higher cube, he or she is more likely to get injured. These injuries subject the company to medical costs, lost time, replacement wages, and workers’ compensation etc. – injuries that could have been prevented.

Employees’ well-being tends to be a hard benefit to quantify. What does making your employees happy really mean? Making sure employees do not feel worn down from the day before. Helping employees to be mentally and physically alert creates a healthier and better functioning employee. When employees are healthier physically and mentally, they are less likely to take sick days. With a planned day off, a company can better prepare its operations to handle one less employee by scheduling another worker rather than paying overtime to a couple of workers.

Ergonomics can also help in generating a more productive employee. Most people assume working fast is the only way to get better, whereas working smarter is the ideal way. While working fast does account for a better worker, knowing how to work correctly and more efficiently can generate greater production with less strain. The employees running around may look like they are getting a lot done, but they are exerting too much energy. Employees that place their pallet jacks next to the box lessen the amount of walking with the case’s weight. Despite appearances, these employees are doing their jobs smarter with less effort. More efficient, more productive employees completing more work in less time so they employer doesn’t have to pay overtime.

Working to create a better work environment helps improve the well-being of the employees while financially improving the company. Ergonomics offers associates a “value of life” at work and the company reaps the benefits on the bottom line. Being proactive about the work environment rather than reactive to overhead costs allows companies to truly optimize their workforce.

$$ Ergonomics in the Workplace $$ = Productive Workers – Injuries –Sick Days + Less Tired

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