The Economics of Ergonomics


In addition to supporting worker health and safety, ergonomically sound work environments also provide important economic benefits.


Research suggests workplace safety initiatives are associated with an average of:

  • 66% increase in productivity (2% - 104%)

  • 44% increase in quality (4% - 73%)

  • 82% increase in safety records (52% - 100%)

  • 71% increase in cost benefits (38% - 100%)

In some cases, it can take as little as 8 months to 'payback' the monetary investment in a safety initiative.


The direct benefit-to-cost ratio of ergonomic interventions can range from 2:1 to 10:1, meaning every dollar spent can provide $2 to $10 worth of benefits.


Ergonomics, Quality, and Profit


While the direct costs of poor ergonomics tend to be the most visible (e.g. medical and workers' compensation), indirect costs can be 0.5 to 20 times more exorbitant. For example, impacts on decreased quality, replacing workers and the associated training costs, and productivity/production losses.


Poor ergonomics can have a direct negative impact on quality and profit. Ergonomically unsound designs can lead to physical and mental fatigue, and in turn, errors and reduction in work quality. Unaddressed fatigue can accumulate and lead to chronic injury.


Poor working conditions also affect quality. In tasks requiring increased force or precision, there are subsequent increases in fatigue, quality errors, and the need for inspection. For a business, fatigue can also lead to product malfunctions and resulting warranty claims, parts replacement, decreased customer satisfaction, and brand erosion.


Productivity


One of the most notable indirect costs of poor working conditions is associated with decreased productivity. When companies offer incentives for workers to increase productivity, it can lead to decreased accuracy and increased variability, resulting in more warranty claims, product replacement, and even scrap material.


Injury risk increases with physically and/or mentally demanding tasks. So, it is necessary to give recovery and relaxation time to fatigued workers for factors like high heat, noise, or excess standing. The number of quality issues (and the resulting costs) also increases with tougher tasks. Therefore, improving productivity simultaneously requires making tasks more ergonomically friendly.


Ergonomics is much more than adjusting for proper posture, it encompasses the full breadth of human-centered design to improve working conditions, reduce injury, and increase productivity, quality, and profit – benefiting workers and businesses.





Want to learn more about the intersection of economics and ergonomics and human-centered design?


Join us for an 8-week online course, Human-Centered Design (ERG 140), led by Dr. Jim Potvin, PhD, CCPE.


Learn more & register here: https://www.coeh.berkeley.edu/erg140