Manufacturer saves money with participatory ergonomic program

In brief

  • Participatory ergonomic (PE) programs may be worth undertaking based on their financial merits: they can save employers more money than they cost to implement.
  • Employers need to consider a range of health and productivity consequences when evaluating the financial merits of PE programs. A drop in workers’ compensation claims — which is most commonly considered — may not be the main outcome affected by the program.

Published: January 2009

Why was this study done?

Participatory ergonomic (PE) programs appear to be effective in reducing workers’ exposures to risks for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), or soft-tissue injuries. Yet little is known about the impact that PE programs have on resources such as staff time. This study was designed to address this gap. PE generally involves a management/worker team who look for ways to reduce health risks through the redesign of processes, tools and equipment.

How was the study done?

Researchers conducted an economic evaluation of a PE program at a 175-employee car parts manufacturer in central Ontario. The PE program resulted in 10 ergonomic changes during an 11-month period. Researchers calculated the costs of the program, including the time and money spent on training, meetings, change implementation, ergonomics expertise and equipment. They compared the number and duration of workers’ compensation claims, modified work cases, first-aid-only injuries, short- and long-term disability (STD/LTD) claims and casual absences before and after the PE program was introduced.

What did the researchers find?

The most significant impact of the PE program was that it reduced the length of time workers spent on short- and long-term disability (STD/LTD) benefits. This figure went down by 52 per cent. This suggests that the ergonomic changes helped reduce the severity of non-work-related MSDs and other injuries, since these disability benefits don’t cover work-related injuries.

The total cost of implementing the PE program was $24,400. Based on this figure, the cost per averted day of STD/LTD was $12.06 (cost-effectiveness). The PE program saved the employer about $244,420 over a 23-month period (cost-benefit).

The PE program did not appear to affect the number and duration of workers’ compensation claims, modified work cases, first-aid-only injuries and casual absences, or the number of STD/LTD claims.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

A study strength was that it did not focus exclusively on workers’ compensation, but rather included a wide range of costs and consequences. A limitation was that it did not include a separate control group that was not participating in the PE program. This means factors other than ergonomic changes may have affected the outcomes.