Quarter Two 2021


The Business Case for Implementing an Ergonomics Program

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) are the leading cause of pain, suffering and disability in American workplaces. MSDs account for almost 400,000 injuries per year and one-third of all workers compensation costs. The direct costs of MSDs are $20 billion a year and indirect costs (lost productivity, product defects, etc.) of an MSD case can be up to five times the direct costs.

A few examples clearly illustrate what an ergonomics-related injury can cost a company. A sprain costs an average of $28,866 in direct costs and $31,752 in indirect costs according to OSHA’s Safety Pays Cost Calculator. A strain costs an average of $33,528 in direct costs and $36,880 in indirect costs using the same calculator. It certainly is in a company’s best interest to implement measures to reduce these injuries, for both health and cost reasons. There is compelling data showing organizations that have developed ergonomics programs to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) have realized substantial benefits, including fewer injuries and injury costs, reduced turnover and absenteeism, improved product quality, and increased productivity.

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) reviewed 250 case studies to determine the benefits of implementing a strong ergonomics program. They found that five key benefits were realized by the companies in the studies: Ergonomics reduces costs, improves productivity and quality, improves employee engagement, and creates a better safety culture. This last finding is important because according to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, over a 13-year period the market performance of companies that integrated a culture of health and safety outperformed competitors by up to 325%.

The DLI concluded that the reduction of ergonomic risk factors will significantly reduce costs. The study found a 59% average reduction of musculoskeletal disorders, a 65% average reduction in incidence rate, a 75% reduction in lost workdays, a 53% reduction in restricted workdays, a 68% reduction in worker’s compensation costs, a 39% reduction in costs per claim, and a 43% decrease in labor costs. Additionally, by implementing good ergonomic solutions (resulting in a more efficient workstation), they found that companies increased their productivity by 25%.

One of the key benefits of a comprehensive ergonomics program is the improvement in employee engagement and morale. As employees reduce fatigue and discomfort at their workplace, they were less likely to be absent or quit their jobs. The companies studied had a 48% average reduction in employee turnover and 58% average reduction in employee absenteeism.

The DLI highlighted some of the companies in these case studies to illustrate the how significant the cost savings were by preventing MSDs:

  • American Express Financial Advisors lowered costs by 80%
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield created an insurance dividend of $1 million
  • 3M had a 64% reduction in OSHA injury and illness rate
  • Siemens VDO Automotive decreased strain injuries from 43 percent to 0. They saved 20,000 hours per year in time previously lost to pain, doctor visits, and time off Sikorsy accrued over $4.5M in labor savings (based on 140 aircraft) and $70,000 in injury cost avoidance per aircraft when they instituted ergonomics improvements. They realized that making these improvements made good safety, as well as business sense.

A proactive ergonomics program that lowers injury risk and improves productivity is a vital element of your safety process. High worker’s compensation costs due to MSDs can be prevented and should not be considered an expected cost of doing business. Healthy employees are a company’s most valuable asset, and with the implementation of a strong ergonomics program a company can take the necessary steps to ensure that they remain healthy and productive.


Safety + Health, May 22, 2016. Know the benefits of an ergonomics program.

Berlin, C and Adams C 2017 Production Ergonomics: Designing Work Systems to Support Optimal Human Performance. Pp. 189–212. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: License: CC-BY 4.0

Department of Labor and Industries [DLI] (2000). Cost-benefit analysis of the ergonomics standard. Olympia, WA: Author.

R.W. Goggins et al. Estimating the effectiveness of ergonomics interventions through case studies: Implications for predictive cost-benefit analysis.

Journal of Safety Research. 39 (2008) 339–344

Puget Sound Chapter of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. Cost Benefit Analysis.

Sikorsky, Stratford, CN Final Assembly. 2021 Applied Ergonomics Conference Ergo Cup Competition. March 3, 2021

Components of a Successful Ergonomics Program

The success of a participatory ergonomics program depends on thoughtful implementation of several critical elements such as medical management, hazard identification and control, and training and education; but most importantly, it begins with recruiting management support and incorporating employee involvement.

Getting management commitment for resource allocation is fundamental. It is important to maintain that support and communication as the program advances. Failure to obtain management commitment will typically lead to the failure of the program due to the lack of support from middle management and supervisors.

Once management is on board, it is equally important to ensure employee participation in all the elements of the program, especially when creating the ergonomics team(s). Employees have the responsibility of reporting signs and symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders as early as possible, which should push the program from a reactive to a more proactive approach. Assisting in job assessments and brainstorming possible solutions will also facilitate the implementation and use of those solutions as employees possess expert knowledge of their tasks and feel that they were involved with the analysis and development processes.

Developing a written program is also crucial to define the roles and responsibilities, processes to be followed, and metrics that will show the progress of the program. This serves as the foundation and the standard operating procedure that the company will use to carry out the key processes of the program; in other words, it answers the what, who, where, when and how the ergonomics program will be implemented at the site.

Another element to consider is medical management. Having a process for managing ergonomic injuries is vital to identify the procedure and parties responsible for initiating medical treatment protocols for an injured employee and to implement a successful return-to-work program.

Everyone in the organization needs to know the basics about ergonomics through education and training. It is important to develop and provide ergonomic awareness at all levels of the organization. Employees need to learn about the main risk factors and the signs and symptoms of ergonomic injuries.

The next two elements are essential because they define how the jobs will be assessed and improved. The process of prioritization and analysis defines how to select the areas with the highest ergonomic risk and how to assess the observed risks, while the process of hazard reduction and control defines how to implement solutions that will result in the elimination or reduction of the ergonomic risk factors identified.

Finally, it is important to rate the progress made by reviewing the metrics and evaluating all the elements as part of the program evaluation. The evaluation findings can help you identify which elements are working properly and which ones are performing below expectations. Those should become the areas of opportunity for the following year and where you should focus more resources.

At the end, remember that becoming a world class ergonomics program requires having a structured process and using a continuous improvement mentality to mature the program from a process to a culture where ultimately everyone is responsible for ergonomics.

Spotlight: Ergo Cup Competition

The internationally recognized Ergo Cup® Competition, sponsored by the Ergonomics Center of North Carolina and Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina State University, provides an exciting opportunity for companies to highlight their successful ergonomic solutions. The competition concludes at the annual Applied Ergonomics Conference, to be held next year from March 21-24, 2022, in Orlando, Florida.

Among the categories each year is Ergonomics Program Improvement Initiatives. Recognizing that a strong program is the foundation of a successful ergonomics initiative, IISE has defined a clear set of parameters for a winning Ergo Cup entry. It must be a planned ergonomic program improvement initiative, process or management system designed to increase the effectiveness of a location’s overall comprehensive ergonomics program. Some examples include ergonomic training programs, incorporation of ergonomics into change management systems, ergonomics risk assessment processes, ergonomic prioritization systems, return-to-work programs, office ergonomic programs and ergonomic programs designed for mobile and/or telecommuter employees.

Some past winners in this category include Toyota Motor Manufacturing (Princeton, IN), Lockheed Martin Space (Littleton, Colorado), and Honda of Canada Manufacturing (Ontario, Canada). We encourage any organization that has worked on improving their ergonomics program through innovative solutions to enter the competition. The following link provides more information on how to do so:

Any organization that can demonstrate an effective program improvement initiative within the last 24 months is eligible to compete. The ergonomic solution preferably should have been implemented at least 1 (one) full year and actual productivity, quality, and/or safety ROI results should be presented.