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ErgoDynamix - The Economics of Ergonomics

What do ergonomists do?
Ergonomists strive to improve worker productivity and to reduce the potential for job-related illnesses and injuries by fitting the job, workplace, and environment to the worker.

We are not having any ergonomic problems. Why should we retain an ergonomic consultant?
Studies have shown that application of ergonomics in the office (i.e., using ergonomic furniture and accessories, worker training in ergonomics, and job redesign) can enhance worker productivity by as much as 20%. However, only a 1% or 2% projected increase in productivity is usually necessary to cost-justify ergonomic intervention. An ergonomist can help you with an economic impact analysis. Your costs can often be recovered in a year or less. Application of ergonomics improves worker comfort and reduces job-related stress. This may lead to a reduction in absenteeism and lower turn-over rates.

We have just purchased ergonomic furniture. Will this not solve our CTD problems?
Poor working posture, application of excessive force, high repetition rates for repetitive movements, and inadequate rest are four occupational risk factors that are believed to increase the probability of cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Ergonomic furniture addresses only the first factor -- poor posture. Other factors can only be addressed through training and job design. An ergonomist can assist you by providing training for your workers and, where necessary, job analysis and redesign.

How can we determine our potential risk for CTD injuries?
There are a number of ways. You should begin by examining your historical experience -- OSHA logs, workers' compensation claims, and medical records of employees. If you are having problems now, they will probably get worse in the future. You should also assess your current situation. Worker surveys and workstation evaluations are two powerful tools that can be used to predict the likelihood of CTDs in the future. An ergonomist can help you develop an appropriate survey and perform workstation evaluations. Risk assessments for individual workers in high risk jobs may also be desirable in some instances.

What are the costs associated with a CTD occurrence?
According to Dr. Jeffrey Fernandez, a professor at Wichita State University and a noted CTD authority, the cost for a single CTD incident is between $20,000 and $80,000, depending on severity. This does not include any indirect costs such as the cost of replacement labor while the worker is absent, costs for workstation modification and retraining when the worker returns, or any costs that may be associated with litigation (e.g., attorneys' fees and settlement costs).

Can training help? Who should receive the training?
Training in ergonomics is essential for all workers that use computers. Ergonomic furniture and accessories (adjustable chairs, adjustable keyboard supports, palm rests, anti-glare screens, foot rests, etc.) have limited value unless workers know how to use them correctly. In some instances, if used improperly, ergonomic furnishings may adversely affect performance and increase the potential for injuries. When properly trained, workers can often modify their existing workstations to improve comfort and productivity and reduce the potential for CTDs without purchase of new furniture or accessories. Training in office ergonomics should also teach workers how to reduce non-occupational CTD risk where that is feasible. Non-occupational risk factors include predisposition (e.g., gender and wrist characteristics), medical conditions (e.g., hypothyroidism and pregnancy), and lifestyle (e.g., hobbies and smoking).

An ergonomic consultant can provide training that is appropriate for your needs.

What Other Services Can an Ergonomic Consultant Provide?
An ergonomic consultant can help establish an office ergonomics program within your company. This involves obtaining management commitment, forming a team or task force, developing a mission statement and goals, evaluating the current situation in the workplace, implementing changes, training, re-evaluation, and continuous improvement. An effective ergonomics program must consider all three types of factors that create workplace stress: physical factors, cognitive factors, and psychosocial factors.

What is a Certified Professional Ergonomist (CPE)?
A Certified Professional Ergonomist (CPE) is an ergonomic practitioner that has been certified by the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, Inc. Certification usually requires an advanced degree (M.S. or Ph.D.) in ergonomics or a closely related field, at least five years of work experience in ergonomics, and obtaining a satisfactory score on a comprehensive written examination. There are only about 500 CPEs in the U.S.

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