Think HBR

Good ergonomics is good business

Fiona McDonald
Absolute Injury Solutions
As consulting ergonomists we often see the frustrating side of running a business that comes from having poor equipment, workplace design, or unsatisfactory working conditions. The cost of employee injury or illness on our business is not something often discussed because a poor record of injury or illness can negatively impact on the opportunities for continued or new work, and there’s also the cost of absenteeism, compensation, and loss of productivity.
It is estimated that lost productivity to Australian business is almost $13 billion which means employers face the challenge of not only maintaining a safe work environment but also in dealing with the consequences on their business of poor employee health.
Ergonomics to most people is something to do with chairs and desks. As an ergonomist I can assure you that many items that have been tagged “ergonomic” or “ergonomically designed” are far from such, however “ergonomic” sells. I recently reviewed a piece of very expensive health equipment that was proud to advertise that the handles were ergonomically designed. However I was there to review why so many staff were suffering shoulder pain from holding the handle when moving the equipment.
Obviously the designers had forgotten to involve the end-users in the location and design of the handles. Not so ergonomic.
The National Preventative Health Taskforce estimates that there are 11 million Australians in workplaces and as such this environment is one where small widespread changes could result in significant health improvements.
The overall goal of ergonomics is to improve “Quality of Life” including health, safety, comfort, usability and productivity. It’s a specialised discipline that studies the interface between humans and other system components such as:
• Hardware - can I use my remote controls without hitting the wrong button?
• Software - does my computer give me the information I am looking for easily?
• Environments - does my office environment make me feel energized/relaxed/comfortable?
• Jobs - am I performing a task that has purpose and can I improve or change it to suit my personal needs? 
• Organisational structures - does the organisation I work for recognize my skills and knowledge?
• Processes - is there a more efficient way to do my job?
My experience with injured workers and managers within a work environment has allowed me to observe many facets of human nature. Often the situations I am reviewing have resulted from levels of poor worker – manager relations, for example, the worker reports issues that no one is listening or interested in them regarding their problem or that they have advised managers on numerous occasions regarding the problem with the job but no action has been taken, alternately managers become frustrated with workers because they’re not “thinking”.
As an ergonomist our background and experience is driven around the involvement of end-users, or in this case the employees, in improving health, safety, wellbeing, comfort and productivity in the work environment. To achieve wellness in your business you first need to gain employee ownership and engagement in the process. You need their participation.
Participatory Ergonomics is a common practice for implementing changes to the workplace or work environment and there are significant benefits. Many prevention based initiatives are now being implemented by various government safety bodies around the country. For example PErforM (participatory ergonomics for manual tasks) is a risk management tool developed jointly by Workplace Health and Safety Qld (WHSQ), The University of Qld and Curtin University, it is designed to be used in a participative ergonomics approach providing a framework to assist employers to engage employees at all levels to identify, assess and control manual task risks in their workplaces.
This participatory approach has benefits such as:
• solution ownership
• enhanced worker and workplace safety
• enhanced job satisfaction
• improved design effectiveness
• enhanced worker performance
• enhanced competency and confidence
• employment of a worker-centred approach
• enhanced culture of safety for employees
• increased acceptance for change
The Royal Australian College of Physicians (2010) explored the relationship between work and health and wellbeing. Their findings were that good work is good for health and wellbeing. Put simply, happy and healthy workers perform and they perform well and to the benefit of all, which means for businesses of all types:
• fewer absences
• reduced turnover
• reduced costs all round
• increased productivity
• increased morale
• increased loyalty
• increased profits
And as business owners, this is something that we all want.
For further information, Fiona can be contacted on 0419 201 869 or
Fiona McDonald Ergonomics Fiona McDonald

Fiona McDonald, Ergonomist and owner of Absolute Injury Solution, specialises in consulting and providing advice and expertise in ergonomics, workplace injury prevention and injury management systems to companies both locally and across Australia. With 30 years experience she strives to promote health, wellness and productivity in the working environment.