The fact is that the effort to manage ergonomics programs will reduce over time. At first, when you are just putting your ergonomics program in place it can seem like there are so many things to do and people to see. This phase includes learning the process behind doing quality ergonomic assessments, getting buy-in from upper management/decision makers, and engaging staff in the ergonomic program. What all this means is that you will likely be busy… but the good news is that this phase of your ergonomics program diminishes over time. Even better when you set-up your ergonomics program right it hums along like any other process that you have going on in your workplace. This next phase is what I like to call program maintenance. It’s where many in-house ergonomics programs hit their stride because they are done putting out the fires so to speak and now the focus shifts to injury prevention. The maintenance phase is actually quite enjoyable and (dare I say…) fun!
In terms of money’s worth when it comes to office ergonomics programs, the value will always be in stopping injuries from occurring in the first place. Another way of saying this is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
When I managed my own in-house ergonomics program I knew this to be true. It took incredibly less effort to do prevention-based ergonomic assessments looking on how people set up their workstations compared to when I needed to assess those who already had considerable discomfort or even an injury.
If I were to do the math, I would say it would take about 5 prevention-based ergonomic assessments in the same time that it would take to do one complex case -ie: someone who had a lot of discomfort/pain, or even someone returning back to work from a workers’ compensation claim or injury that happened outside of work hours.
I have posted before that prevention is best for ergonomics. I’d like to share with you a basic prevention strategy that many workplaces in their ‘program maintenance’ phase use:
Disclaimer: I can’t guarantee that you will eliminate workers’ compensation costs/pain/discomfort with using these prevention tactics. In fact if anyone ever tells your this, they would likely be lying… but in saying this I have seen how effective prevention tactics can be to nip the majority of ergonomic problems in the bud.
There is potentially a lot of ergonomic assessments required with using a preventative ergonomic strategy. Of course this would depend on how big your workplace is and what the need or severity of those people requiring assessments are. The good thing is that for the vast majority of cases, assessments will be straight-forward.
This is where using an in-house ergonomics program makes so much sense. As you can see from the graphic above, the majority of cases (the green and yellow portions of the triangle) are simple and straight-forward enough that an in-house ergonomic program can easily handle the assessments. This is especially true if in-house ergonomics programs have the right training and focus on the basic principals of ergonomics and risk prevention. The red tip of the triangle represents the minority of ergonomic assessments. In ergonomic programs that focus on prevention, complex ergonomic assessments will very likely be occurring rarely. But in that rare case is when using the skills of an outside consultant makes firm business sense – they will still be a valuable asset in your ‘ergonomics team’ (more on this below!).
Let’s look at the flip side of this – if your workplace exclusively relies on outside consultants for everything in your ergonomics program. Remember to be truly effective at eliminating injuries and engaging employees, an ergonomics program should include some aspects of injury prevention. To do this, you could spend time waiting for an outside consultant to schedule/come in to complete these assessments and the consequence of this could lead to missing an window of opportunity with that employee aka being able to address their concerns before their discomfort escalates.
Trust me, it’s better for everyone to nip any ergonomic challenges in the bud. Discomfort can escalate quickly.
On top of this the cost would start to add up very quickly. A typical ergonomics consultant may cost upwards of $300-$1,000 for just ONE assessment. Relying on consultants for all the different types of ergonomic assessments that are recommended for prevention can quickly add up.
If there are 30 people in your workspace, that would typically mean that you need 30 assessments completed. Let’s look at the cost: 30 assessments x $300/assessment (note: this is the low end for the cost of ergonomic assessments, usually they cost a lot more than this) = $9,000/year to just implement only one aspect of an ergonomics program.
The overall price would be some iteration of this. In my experience workplaces usually cannot afford getting assessments for everyone so only a select few get assessments (usually those with extreme discomfort). This misses a big opportunity. Additionally, this price would NOT include the cost of any new/necessary equipment (like a keyboard tray) that could be recommended. It also doesn’t include any other aspect that you would want to address – like annual ergonomic ‘check-ins’, quick ergonomic assessments for new hires/those who relocate within your workplace. It also wouldn’t include more reactionary assessments for times when there is an injury/lots of discomfort or someone is returning back to work who is injured (ie: someone hurt themselves outside of work/if a worker’s compensation claim happens).
If you add all those costs together, that $9,000 could seem like the tip of the iceberg.
In-house ergonomics programs can be efficient in the first place for both speed of the assessments and the overall cost of the program. For instance, you know your employees the most, you know internal processes, you know where things are. If you focus on the signs and symptoms of ergonomic risk/prevention strategies that I listed above and just ACT on those you have a major advantage and as a result your employees will see a major benefit.
Here’s another way to look at this. Outside consultants are still big value-add, but now as part of your ‘ergonomic team’ handling more advanced or complex assessments. This makes sense: with an in-house ergonomics program you don’t have months or even years of hardcore studying to dedicate yourself to all the areas of ergonomics that could come up in just one assessment. Leave those complex cases to the experts so you can focus on your other work duties!
Ergonomic programs may take a little bit to get up and running but overtime the amount of effort to manage them will reduce. Add prevention strategies to the mix and you can make a real difference in your workplace!