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Ergonomics and Workers Compensations Claims

Saturday, August 28, 2010
By Anne Kramer

Today’s commonplace talk of ergonomics in the workplace has people polarized. There are those of us who understand both the benefits to be enjoyed from incorporating products and practices conceived to promote our overall ergonomic well-being, as well as the real dangers associated with ignoring them. On the other side of the fence are those who mock the notion of spending extra time or money on anything that does not yield immediate, tangible results. Quickly changing this landscape however, is the increasing incidence of workers compensation claims associated with ergonomic injuries.

In 2007, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that of the workers compensation claims made across the construction industry, 32% could have been prevented by heeding proper ergonomic procedures. The cost of the average claim was $9,240. Meanwhile, repetitive stress injuries (RSI’s) cost U.S. employers over $1 billion per year.

Figures such as these have even the naysayers listening.

Because workers compensation costs are rising across the board, businesses are starting to be proactive in combating these potential expenditures. Mandatory injury prevention programs educate employees on the ways in which they can avoid ergonomic injuries which may be inherent to their positions. These courses circumvent additional expenditures by lowering insurance costs and raising productivity. In reality, such programs are shown to have a 16:1 return on investment.

Similarly, low-cost, high-impact job improvements such as responsibility re-assignment get employees out of harm’s way without effecting productivity. An example of such a simple measure might be a temporary switch in office responsibilities between equally-qualified office workers. If, for example, in order to maintain their small business office, Maureen and Fred are charged with stocking the office supply closet and changing the water cooler bottle respectively, they might switch jobs while Fred’s torn rotator cuff heals.

Obviously, the most commonly imagined measures, and yes, the ones with the highest initial price tag are changes to equipment, tools, and workstations. The good news is however, that these tangible changes yield immediate results. Not only do workers enjoy a more comfortable work day, but this comfort is generally manifested in higher worker morale, increased productivity, and what every employer wants, a decrease in workers compensation claims associated with ergonomic maladies. Switching out old, outdated computer keyboards for new, ergonomically-designed models, for example, can go a long way toward avoiding serious compensation claims in the future.

There are several ways to bypass costly workers compensation claims associated with ergonomic injuries. The path your business chooses to go depends on a number of things, including the ability to afford initial investment, and the timeframe over which you expect to see results.

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