Monday, October 08, 2007

Ergonomics and the bottom line

"Ergonomics And Economics Why ergonomics makes a lot of sense from a dollars-and-cents standpoint and why it may be inevitable because of legislation.
By M. Franz Schneider published in Office Ergonomics May/June 1985 and available at this web address

A group of 123 office workers were selected to investigate the impact of ergonomic furniture on productivity. For eight months before any design changes, workers kept diaries of time spent on various tasks. The absenteeism rate, and number of errors per document and time to complete tasks was monitored. The workers were given checklists which they completed every half hour, describing their postural comfort and perceived well-being.

Workers participated in the selection of furniture through user evaluations, development of layouts, and determination of finishes and accessories. The performance measures were continued for six months after the design changes.

Results were impressive: Monday morning absenteeism dropped from 7 per cent to less than 1 per cent. Over-all absenteeism fell from 4 per cent to less than 1 per cent. Error rates in document preparation fell from 25 per cent to 11 per cent. The percent of the day computer equipment was in use increased from 60 to 86. These results signified an increase in active work time of more than 40 per cent. Reports of postural discomfort showed a marked drop in frequency, severity and duration.

The subjective ratings that managers made of their own performance indicated that more than 70 per cent felt that their effectiveness had improved "very much." Ninety per cent subjectively rated the productivity of their employees as "much improved."

It is suggested that the fact that the study started 8 months prior to the design changes should mean the "observer effect" was minimised because performance only improved after the design changes were made. Also, the productivity improvements endured after the study team was no longer on-site.

Other studies have demonstrated similar benefits:

The performance of State Farm Insurance clerical workers improved as much as 15 per cent with ergonomically acceptable work stations and seating (Dr. T.J.Springer).

Laboratory work showed that the keystroke rate for data-entry tasks increased five per cent when workers were moved from an ergonomically unacceptable environment to one that was ergonomically correct (Dr. Marvin Dainoff).

The performance of office workers at Blue Cross-Blue Shield was shown to improve with the move to an ergonomically enhanced environment, resulting in an overall productivity improvement of 4.4 per cent.

The Norwegian State Institute showed improvements to work station layout and seating, halved back-related absenteeism and reduced turnover from 40 per cent to 5 per cent.

At a major automobile company, management workers used their computer equipment less than 12 per cent of the day. After the introduction of ergonomic computer tables and an improved chair, the VDT-use rate went up four times. Time taken to complete reports and memos was reduced, and the quality of correspondence was rated as being higher. More significantly, the average management worker had at least three more hours per week of time for work. Time that had initially been eaten up by the tedious clerical/management interface was freed by the use of "user-friendly" computer equipment. A telemarketing group reported an increase from ten per cent to 80 per cent on final closings of sales after the change to ergonomically enhanced office furnishings and improvements to the acoustics and lighting of the environment.


People generally work only 60 per cent of the working day, or about 288 minutes. A 5 per cent improvement would provide 14 minutes of productive work per day, 14 fewer minutes of back discomfort and getting up to wander around the office, and 14 more minutes to review reports. There would be 14 fewer minutes of re-doing memos that have been processed incorrectly and 14 minutes for new work, 14 fewer minutes of frustration with screen glare and 14 more minutes of effective programming.

Andy Brazier

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