I periodically hear people state their beliefs that ergonomics-related engineering improvements tend to be cost prohibitive. While this does happen, I find it to be the exception, versus the rule. But how can that be?
Yes, there are situations in some facilities that can be cost prohibitive to change—short term. This is especially true in refining operations, in many pharmaceutical processing operations, and other processing operations that involve processing tanks, extensive pipelines and other potentially “self-contained” systems. This may also apply to processes that require “revalidation” after any changes, but even with these operations, we may be able to “do something.”
Thus, while we may not be able to solve “100%” of the ergonomics risk factors in a particular “structured” operation, that does not mean we should not try. These are the operations where companies should work with ergonomists to develop a “bucket list” of improvements to implement during scheduled maintenance periods during the design of new processes and facilities, and when major changes are scheduled for processing infrastructure.
Yes, there are some engineered ergonomics improvements that require capital investment. If we have a history of direct injuries and illnesses relating to a process, then we should also be able to relate direct cost savings when risks are reduced and/or eliminated. But engineering ergonomics improvements do not need to rely on the reduction of work-related illnesses and injuries as the only basis for cost justification.
Many engineered ergonomics improvements will have a significant impact on employee and/or process productivity and product throughput, as well as on product quality. For example, one of my clients changed its inbound product scanning process based on an assessment I completed and the recommendations I provided. After making the change, they gained at least a 10% productivity increase from each of 10 people in the area—for scanning goods my client was paid for on a piece-rate. For a modest investment of a few thousand dollars, they literally gained the productivity equivalent of an additional employee!
Another of my clients was able to realize a $100,000/year productivity payback from a $1,000 investment in a process bottleneck. For many companies, these can be significant capital investments during the best of times, but we have to pay close attention to how improvements impact not only the risk for injuries and illnesses, but also how they affect key performance indicators. And THAT is the “secret” to ergonomics success. Leaders of some companies may consider the cost of injuries and illnesses as a “cost of doing business,” so we ergonomists cannot be lazy. We have to apply the impact on business metrics alongside injury and illness data to provide the true cost justification.
When I am teaching our Effective Industrial Ergonomics Course, one of the sections places great emphasis on a forced, weighted ranking of engineering (and other) improvement options. The process “weights” the impact each option may have on key business metrics, and has been described as an elegant way to help those in positions of engineering and managerial responsibility make better decisions relating to the health and safety of employees.
There is also the regulatory mandate that requires companies address “recognized hazards” to employee health in the workplace. This mandate is not exclusive to companies operating in the U.S. under the OSHA “General Duty Clause,” but also applies to companies operating in most countries around the world. In fact, companies operating in most other countries around the world are also obligated to assess each job task for potential ergonomics risks—and then address them!
During my nearly 30-years as an Industrial Engineering and Ergonomics Safety Professional, I have achieved the greatest successes by helping my employers and clients understand the impact of how engineering ergonomics improvements affect not only employee health and safety, but also bottom-line business metrics!
Contact us for more details on how we can help your company improve its operations with ergonomics improvements, by clicking on this link, calling (847) 921-3113 directly, or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can’t afford not to!