Getting senior management to invest in safety programs and initiatives can be a struggle. But at least management seems to understand that it must take steps to prevent workers from being cut, breaking bones or getting entangled in machinery. They seem to have a harder time understanding that the duty to protect workers also extends to less obvious injuries that can develop slowly over time, such as musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) caused by ergonomics problems in the workplace. (Click here for more information on employers’ legal obligations for addressing ergonomics in the workplace.)
One way to get senior management’s support for an ergonomics program is by showing that such a program can benefit the company by both preventing MSIs and saving the company money. Here’s a case study from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) that you can use. The company in the study saved about 10 times more than it spent on its ergonomics program—to the tune of almost $245,000.
Car Parts Manufacturer Saves Nearly $250,000 from PE Program
An Ontario auto parts manufacturer asked IWH researchers to help it implement a participatory ergonomics (PE) program to improve workers’ musculoskeletal health. A PE program brings workers, supervisors and other key workplace personnel together to identify and solve problems to reduce the risk of MSIs.
An ergonomics change team was set up to implement the PE program at the worksite. The team included:
- Worker representatives from all shifts;
- A union and a corporate health and safety representative;
- A mechanical engineer;
- The production manager;
- The tooling supervisor;
- Human resources representatives; and
- A person from the research team.
Following the steps outlined in the how-to guide Participative Ergonomic Blueprint (available at www.iwh.on.ca/pe-blueprint), the team identified and prioritized potential ergonomic changes based on departmental injury rates, worker suggestions, worker pain reports and production and quality issues.
Over the next 11 months, the team made 10 physical changes to the plant. They included five easier-to-implement “fast track” changes, such as installing anti-fatigue matting to reduce leg and back fatigue and fabricating a 45-degree angle on a tool to reduce wrist flexion. They also included five more-involved “full process” projects, such as installing platforms to reduce low-back stressors and changing a packing protocol to reduce above-shoulder work.
Benefits of Program
IWH Scientist Dr. Emile Tompa and his team conducted an economic evaluation of the PE program. They calculated the program costs at $24,400, including the time and money spent on training, meetings, change implementation, ergonomics expertise and equipment.
They then looked at the number and duration of workers’ compensation claims, modified work cases, first-aid-only injuries, short- and long-term disability (STD/LTD) claims and casual absences before and after the PE program was introduced. Significant reductions were seen in only one measure — the length of time workers spent on STD/LTD. That figure went down by 52%, representing a savings of about $244,420 over 23 months.
All in all, the findings indicate how important it is for companies to look beyond workers’ compensation costs when determining the economic benefits of prevention programs. “The benefits of a PE program can surface in many places within a company,” Tompa points out. The results of the economic evaluation indicate that “PE can play a role in both primary and secondary prevention in the workplace,” says Tompa. “In other words, it can be effective in not only reducing injuries, but also reducing the severity of injuries when they do occur.”