As ergonomists, for many of us, a driving force is to improve work environments to “do good”: to reduce risks for injury and human suffering, improve working conditions and support human well-being. This motivation is in accordance with the first of the two objectives of ergonomics as in the IEA definition – ‘…to optimize human well-being and overall system performance”. However, ‘doing good’ in this sense can be difficult. A challenging task we face as ergonomists is to motivate work site improvements within a business environment that is focused on the second objective of ergonomics, overall system performance. Thus, the art of ergonomics lies in balancing the two – in addressing individual wellbeing as well as the broader goals of system performance. As part of this balancing act, displaying financial impacts of ergonomics plays an important role and is therefore the focus of this key-note.
In all business activity decision makers have to choose between different investment options. For investments that can improve ergonomics, the full economic benefits are often difficult to quantify. Such benefits are associated with reduced costs related to non-optimal work environment. Visible costs, such as direct costs for absenteeism, are quite easily measured while hidden costs, related to business key parameters, such as productivity and quality issues, are often complex, contextually dependent and difficult to estimate. However, these issues are vital for organizations and such costs, which directly affect the company’s competitiveness, are often many times greater than the visible costs. If decision makers only are aware of the direct financial impact of investments they may prioritize solutions that are not optimal neither for organizational performance and business results nor for the work environment and health of the employees. In extreme cases this can jeopardize the company’s future.
So, what is needed for informed decision-making? First, awareness that ergonomics also influences core business parameters and organizational performance is needed. Second, there is a need for user-friendly assessment tools to estimate the financial effects associated with workplace ergonomics. In the presentation a survey of existing assessment tools and methods is presented. Reasons why these tools aren’t more widely used are discussed.
There is an increased call from companies for assessment tools that companies can use in their operational management to motivate and carry out ergonomic improvements. This is partly due to the need to form business cases to motivate investments. There is also an increased awareness from company management, who recognize that improved working environments also lead to other positive effects for the company. Increasingly managers seek knowledge for informed decision making, for example when prioritizing between work environment improvements and strategic corporate decisions. The assessment tools can be used i) proactively in the design of production systems, which leads to advantages for the staff as well as for the company’s performance, ii) reactively to evaluate different scenarios to reduce work environment, productivity and quality problems and iii) strategically for promoting the company.
So, what actions are needed to improve these assessment tools, increase their use of and make them a natural part in the company operational processes? In this presentation some research and development suggestions are given. These involve tool as well as organizational and process development.
In summary, working towards improved tools and their usage in striving towards the twofold ergonomics objective involves many challenges, but strengthens the possibilities to be successful in “doing good”, for individuals and organizations, as well as for societies.
Work nvironment, Ergonomics, Economics, Informed decision-making, Methods, Examples
The First International Scientific-Practical Conference of the Latvian Ergonomics Society, October 7th, 2011,Riga, Latvia
Abstract from Key-note presentation. QC 20120413