Ontario manufacturer saves quarter-million dollars due to participatory ergonomics program

April 25, 2013—A participatory ergonomics (PE) program has proven to be beneficial to the bottom line of an Ontario manufacturing firm, according to a recent study by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). The study is featured in the Spring 2013 edition of the Institute’s quarterly newsletter At Work, which was published online today.

Taking a “company” perspective, the IWH study analyzed a PE program at a clothing manufacturer in southwestern Ontario that employed up to 295 workers. A PE program involves workers, supervisors and other workplace parties jointly identifying and addressing work-related risks that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders.

The study found that, over a four-year period, the company realized a net benefit of almost $295,000, representing a benefit-to-cost ratio of 5.5: for every $1 spent on the program, the company saved $5.50. PE programs can be effective and cost beneficial from a company perspective, says IWH Scientist Dr. Emile Tompa, who led the study.

The study is included in the May 2013 issue of Applied Ergonomics, which is already available online (vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 480-487, doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2012.10.019).

The Ontario shirt manufacturer involved in this study implemented a PE program in 2001. A worksite ergonomics change team was set up, which included management and union representatives from the plant, as well as two expert ergonomists external to the company. Team members were trained to use PE principles to identify jobs for improvement, assess the ergonomic risk factors of the identified jobs and come up with solutions.

In the end, the team identified and implemented ergonomics changes for 97 workers in 27 different types of jobs. The changes ranged from workstation adjustments to process changes. Almost all were low-cost and low-tech changes that were made by the plant’s mechanics and maintenance staff (e.g. adjusting workstation heights).

Tompa and his team then came in to calculate the financial outcomes of the PE program over the four-year period from January 2000 to February 2004. This period included three distinct phases: before (72 weeks), during (100 weeks) and after (44 weeks) the implementation of the program.

The PE program cost $65,787. That included time and material costs for 700 hours of ergonomics team training, over 700 hours of ergonomics expertise and about 20 hours of production down-time.

As for savings, the researchers calculated the money saved by comparing before-and-after numbers for both health and productivity measures. Complex statistical methods were used to ensure that, as much as possible, any changes identified were due to the PE program and not other changes at the firm taking place at the same time.

The study team found many improvements. Its calculations suggested that the PE program:

  • reduced the number of first-aid only workplace injuries by 65 per cent, saving $7,675;
  • cut the number of injuries requiring modified duties by half, saving $58,230;
  • brought down the number of casual absenteeism days by 23 per cent, saving $10,045;
  • dropped the number of long-term sickness absences by 75 per cent and reduced their length by 93 per cent, saving $266,645; and
  • increased the number of shirts being produced right the first time each week by 135, for a savings of just over $18,000.

Tompa notes that workers’ compensation claims were not affected by the PE program. Companies may need to look at more than workers’ compensation costs to measure the benefits of a PE program, he says.

To read the full At Work article on this study, go to: http://www.iwh.on.ca/at-work/72/manufacturer-learns-participatory-ergonomics-worth-the-investment

IWH researchers conducted a similar economic evaluation in a 175-employee auto parts plant in central Ontario that also set up a PE program in 2001. In that case, too, the PE program was shown to save the company almost a quarter-of-a-million dollars. For more information, go to: http://www.iwh.on.ca/at-work/57/pe-case-study

About the Institute for Work & Health

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that aims to protect and improve the health of working people. Recognized as one of the top five occupational health and safety research centres in the world, the Institute provides practical and relevant findings on the prevention of work injury and disability to policy-makers, workers, employers, clinicians, and health, safety and disability management professionals.

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