Are ergonomic interventions cost-effective?

In brief

  • There is strong evidence that ergonomic interventions result in positive financial returns for firms in the manufacturing and warehousing sector, moderate evidence for the administrative and support services and health-care sectors, and limited evidence for the transportation sector.
  • Researchers who plan to evaluate workplace ergonomic interventions should include an economic evaluation.

Published: January 2010

Why was this review done?

The purpose of workplace ergonomic interventions is to ensure that work environments and processes are healthy and safe. Most intervention studies focus on the effectiveness of ergonomic interventions in reducing injuries and illnesses. Few examine the financial returns of ergonomic interventions. However, workplace parties and policy-makers also need to know which interventions are worthwhile from a financial perspective. This review summarizes evidence of the cost-effectiveness of ergonomic interventions.

How was the study done?

This systematic review focused on 16 intervention studies across nine industrial sectors. The reviewers used a method known as “best evidence synthesis” to summarize evidence across studies.

What did the researchers find?

There was a sufficient number of quality studies to make a statement about the level of evidence in four of nine industrial sectors:

  • Administrative and support
  • Health care
  • Manufacturing and warehousing
  • Transportation.

Studies in the manufacturing and warehousing sector provided strong evidence that ergonomic interventions were cost-effective. Studies in the administrative support and health-care sectors provided moderate evidence that interventions for preventing musculoskeletal injuries were cost-effective. In transportation there was limited evidence. Looking at the subset of studies that considered participatory ergonomics interventions, moderate evidence was found for their cost-effectiveness.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

This is one of the first systematic reviews to look at the financial returns of ergonomic interventions. The review was restricted to studies reported in peer-reviewed publications.