Ergonomics done right.®
January 23rd, 2019

Are you Speaking the Language of Business?

Safety and ergonomics professionals are urged to demonstrate the significant return on investment of good safety, health, and well-being management, according to Outgoing President Craig Foyle of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). At the 2018 IOSH conference in the United Kingdom, Doyle explained how to communicate value. “He confirmed what I believe to be the most important element of a successful ergonomics process. As our research lead, I have been privileged to gain knowledge from industry experts throughout the world and integrate it into our system, approach, assessment methods, and guidelines. From my travels and engaging with ergonomics researchers, practitioners, and leaders, I’ve discovered that the key to delivering these elements lies in our language,” says Blake McGowan, director of research.

In business terms, value is commonly defined as the importance or worth to the operation. Effectively communicating the value of ergonomics to business stakeholders begins with providing a clear and concise definition of ergonomics. In simple terms, ergonomics is the science of designing the workplace to match people’s capabilities, with a goal to optimize human performance. When ergonomics is done right, and human performance is optimized, two primary positive outcomes are achieved: improved employee well-being and enhanced business performance. This is the value of ergonomics.

Traditionally, dependent stakeholders (safety and human resources) appreciate the value of ergonomics. They understand that ergonomics improves employee well-being. This includes reductions in causal absenteeism, first aid cases, modified duty cases, recordable injuries, lost-time cases, and workers’ compensation claim costs. However, business stakeholders (plant leadership, quality, operations, manufacturing, Board of Directors, and investors) generally have a limited awareness or understanding of the value. As a result, ergonomics is often overlooked and underexploited.

So, how do we best convey the value of ergonomics? First, professionals need to make more effort to engage and communicate with business stakeholders. Second, stakeholders need to be educated on the value contribution of ergonomics to business performance (how it affects the bottom line). Proper ergonomics design and intervention result in many positive benefits, including the following:

  • Enhanced product quality. Product defects rates are reduced and less time and money is spent correcting defects.
  • Increased manufacturing performance. Manufacturing task times are reduced and facility productivity improves.
  • Improved employee engagement. When the workplace is designed using ergonomics design guidelines, employees feel respected because their workspace meets their needs. That, combined with business leaders connecting with each individual, will help establish a foundation of trust and respect.
  • Better stock performance and corporate social responsibility. Companies that invest in and build a culture of health by focusing on workforce safety and well-being yield greater value for their investors. Also, companies that have safety management systems that include ergonomics have better corporate credit ratings.
  • Tangible return on investment. Companies that invest in engineering to design the workplace to meet human capabilities receive a return of $5 for every $1 spent.

As with any improvement process or program, ergonomics efforts must result in specific, tangible benefits to be considered valuable and worth continuing. When business stakeholders understand that ergonomics improves both employee well-being and business performance, an organization can realize the greatest value.