By Jane Sleeth
I think the reason for this is two-fold: a widespread misunderstanding about what ergonomics is and the bad experiences of companies that have tried ergonomics in the past but used unqualified and/or inexperienced “ergonomists”.
These unqualified or inexperienced “ergonomists” often recommend the purchase of expensive and unnecessary furniture, equipment and accessories that result in little or no return on investment.
This article is intended to show the business case for using ergonomic and accessible design early in the design/build, move, renovation and/or purchase phase. I will also discuss why unqualified and inexperienced “ergonomists” cost your business more and consequently discredit the use of good ergonomic principles in future projects and purchases.
Ergonomics is a well-established applied science that’s been in existence for over 50 years. The science of ergonomics is devoted to maximizing human performance without causing injuries or detrimentally affecting performance. Ergonomics, when properly applied, will always create a benefit to companies — not a cost.
An ergonomic process uses a systematic approach and offers businesses strategies for eliminating unnecessary musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. It focuses on ways to reduce costs by: reducing injuries, reducing absenteeism, reducing errors and maximizing productivity.
Human capital is the main cost for businesses in Canada. Successful businesses need to attract and retain the best talent. Excellent design of work processes, work environments and workstations tends to lead to the attraction of excellent employees.
Musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) are preventable and unnecessary; they cost the Canadian economy millions of dollars, and cause pain and discomfort to affected workers.
When ergonomics is an integral part of basic job and workplace design — and not an afterthought — it becomes less expensive to choose a good ergonomic design for a workplace than to choose a bad design.
In our practice over the last 20 years we have followed up with numerous studies showing the ROI and timelines for ROI associated with the early and consistent use of ergonomic principles in design, along with ongoing education of employees.
In addition, there are provincial ergonomic regulatory requirements, human rights accommodation requirements and accessibility-related legislation (such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in Ontario) that are pointing toward the use of ergonomic principles and practices on a daily basis.
The key is ensuring that companies use qualified and experienced ergonomic experts when applying ergonomics in the workplace. To get the most effective use of ergonomic expertise, companies should consult early and on an ongoing basis with well-qualified and experienced ergonomic firms with a deep understanding of operational imperatives, design expertise and how capital budgets are developed and used in business. Over the last 20 years, we found that businesses that use ergonomics and human factors at the initial phase of purchasing, design, move and/or build projects save anywhere from 15 per cent to as high as 700 per cent in follow up consulting fees, modifications and retrofits, as well as additional capital purchase costs.
Ergonomic experts should be seated in the same room as the project manager, the designer or architect, as well as the purchasing, IT and HR representatives to ensure the projects you manage for your businesses meet and exceed the project goals, and that the process will result in significant capital and consulting cost savings. Including ergonomics in the drawing board ensures excellence in human factors design and avoid human rights complaints, lawsuits and compensation board penalties. It saves time and ensures that objective means are used in the selection of furniture, equipment, lighting, space layout, workflow, IT hardware and software and of course, seating.
Without ergonomics at the early stages of a project many designers, engineers, architects and product designers may end up doing what is called the "procrustus" — which means no attempt is made to accommodate the user, and the employee must adapt to the product, however it happened to be designed (the term comes from Greek mythology, where Procrustes was fitted to a bed by sawing off his head and feet).
Only slightly better than “procrustus” is the Ego-design approach, where the designer uses his or her own body as a reference (you would be amazed at how often this method is used for major design projects).
In our practice we have hundreds of sets of data from sample sizes, varying from 10 to 8,000, collected over the years which proves consistently that the early and consistent use of highly qualified, experienced ergonomic firms work unequivocally. We have similar sets of data and ROI studies that show the flip side of this coin: when facility managers and designers/architects fail to consult ergonomics experts to ensure that ergonomic and universal design principles are applied at all points in a project, the costs can be significant, involving not only financial costs, but costs related to injury and illness, productivity losses and the negative impact on the goodwill of your employees.
Jane Sleeth is the owner and senior consultant with Optimal Performance Consultants, an ergonomic, accessibility and disability prevention firm located in Toronto, which just celebrated its 25th year. Sleeth and her team of consultants can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org