Perhaps as the result of a lack of information, many people view the topic of ergonomics as a ‘soft’ subject – that by giving credence to it and supporters of sound ergonomic principles, you are giving in to those who want a ‘cushy ride’ at the workplace. But, you’d be doing both you and your employees a disservice by ignoring the issue completely.
What is ergonomics?
‘Ergonomics’ is based upon the concept of designing items to match the individuals who use them. In the workplace, this can cover employee tasks and their work environment. In some roles that involve heavy lifting or moving bulky equipment, a mismatch between the normal duties of the job and the physical capabilities of the individual could result in injuries, such as:
- back pain
- carpal tunnel syndrome, or
- repetitive strain injury.
These all fall under the banner of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
It’s not just about individuals
Be honest, when you think about ergonomics, you probably imagine a warehouse employee lifting a heavy box, twisting incorrectly, and creating a sudden injury.
While it’s important to prevent moments like these, what about the thousand other moments happening across your operation every day? And what happens when poor ergonomics build up over time, creating long-term issues?
Poor ergonomics extends far beyond individual employees. Think of it as a ripple effect that can lead to a tidal wave of problems, negatively impacting productivity in a way that is significant and sustained.
4 ways ergonomics-related injuries and issues bring productivity down
Even seemingly minor injuries or nagging physical issues can cause employees to maximise their sick time. As organisations know, sick days can cause major disruption because it usually means other employees have to fill in or change processes to accommodate the absence.
Workers may show up, but they put in far less effort than before, meeting only the minimum requirements of a job. This is particularly the case with employees who have no more sick time left, or want to ‘save’ their days for more serious health issues.
- Low morale
When absenteeism and presenteeism are at play, it can affect an entire workforce. Other employees may feel resentful at having to take on extra work, or shift their priorities to make up for an injured employee’s absence or lowered work output.
- Higher turnover
When morale suffers, so does an operation, because employees will bolt as soon as they find a new opportunity. High turnover is a productivity killer, because of the training time involved and the potential for hiring employees who aren’t a cultural fit.
4 benefits of sound ergonomics in the workplace
Whether it’s a factory floor or office, you can make your work environment more comfortable for your employees. In doing so, it can help you reduce work-related injuries, and consequently reduce potential sick days and costs from employee absences. These include:
- Reducing costs
By systematically reducing ergonomic risk factors, you can prevent costly MSDs. With approximately US$1 out of every US$3 in workers compensation costs attributed to MSDs, this represents an opportunity for significant cost savings. Also, don’t forget that indirect costs can be up to twenty times the direct cost of an injury.
- Boosting employee productivity and performance
By designing a job to allow for good posture, less exertion, fewer motions and better heights and reaches, the workstation becomes more efficient and productive, which in turn may enhance employee performance.
- Enhancing employee engagement
When a company is seen to be taking the health and wellbeing of its employees seriously, and communicates this clearly, employees will start to take notice. If your employees feel cared for and do not experience frustration or discomfort during their working week, it can reduce absenteeism, improve employee morale and increase employee involvement in company initiatives – all signs of more engaged workers. In the long term this can have a positive effect on employee retention.
- Creating a better culture of health and safety
Ergonomics is a positive way of demonstrating your company’s commitment to health and safety as a ‘core value’. A stronger safety culture for your company means it can help to develop healthier and more vigilant employees who are a valuable asset, as they can create and nurture the safety culture within the business, which may lead to increased performance.
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