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Study suggests participatory ergonomics can mean huge savings for companies

Feb. 28, 2014 — In observance of International Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day, Toronto-based research firm Institute for Work and Health (IWH) is urging organizations to add participatory ergonomics to their roster of musculoskeletal disorder prevention efforts.


February 28, 2014
By Mari-Len De

Participatory ergonomics (PE) involves workers, supervisors and other
workplace parties working together to identify and address work-related
risks that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs include
injuries to muscles, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissues, and are
among the leading causes of absence due to work-related injury.

The
IWH has published a study, led by senior scientist Emile Tompa, that
showed PE programs can be beneficial to an organization’s bottom line.
The study followed a shirt manufacturer’s implementation of a PE
program.  The report showed the manufacturer saved money from reductions
in five areas: number of first-aid only workplace injuries, number of
injuries requiring modified duties, number of casual absenteeism days,
number and length of long-term sickness absences, and number of product
rejects. A previous case study in another mid-sized manufacturer, also
led by Tompa, resulted in similar findings. An auto parts maker saved
almost $245,000 after implementing a PE program.

“We analyzed a
PE program at a shirt manufacturer in southwestern Ontario that employed
up to 295 workers, comparing the costs of setting up the program with
its benefits,” said Tompa. “We learned that, for every dollar the
company spent on the program, it saved $5.50, for a total net benefit of
almost $295,000 over a four-year period.”

The article on Tompa’s
study, which appeared in the May 2013 issue of the journal Applied
Ergonomics,
was awarded the best-paper honour by the publication. The
award is given to the article that best demonstrates “the comprehensive
application of ergonomics in a clear and interesting fashion.”

Tompa
will receive the award on April 9 in Southampton, U.K., during the
annual conference of the Institute for Ergonomics and Human Factors.

These
economic evaluation case studies follow up on previous research at the
IWH about what it takes to implement effective PE programs. Led by
associate scientist Dwayne Van Eerd, the research resulted in a number
of recommendations included in a booklet called, Reducing MSD Hazards in
the Workplace: A Guide to Successful Participatory Ergonomics Programs.

“The guide is a good place to get started,” says Van Eerd. “By
following its advice, whatever PE process follows will likely be more
successful.”

The International RSI Awareness Day is observed annually on the last day of February.


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