People + Process = Performance

5 Essential Components of Ergonomic Programs


Are you frustrated with your ergonomics program because the results haven’t been effective?  Are you having difficulty sustaining momentum and justifying keeping the program going?  Are thinking of implementing an ergonomics program? Or, are you looking for ways to improve your program?  If you said yes to any of these then keep on reading.  Based upon my experience in working with companies as well as talking to others who are in charge of ergonomics at their respective companies the reasons most companies struggle with establishing effective ergonomic programs are fairly consistent—they lack a solid foundation.  There are certain components that must be in place in order for ergonomic programs to be successful long term.  The top 5 essential elements are as follows:

1.      System based

2.      Tied into the mission and strategic initiatives of the company

3.      Effective business case

4.      Ergonomic performance standards built into everyone’s performance expectations

5.      Real time metrics combined with continuous improvement

Let’s take a closer look at each one.


1.      System-based

Ergonomics needs to be approached as a system in two ways.  First, the application of ergonomics must be applied in a systems approach manner, meaning looking at the problem or design of a process or product as a whole and its individual parts.  All too often the symptom is the focus of the ergonomic investigation.  It’s not that the symptom, i.e. “site of the problem”, shouldn’t be looked at but instead all of the areas, process and equipment associated with the symptom.  Very rarely does anything happen in complete isolation.  In order to identify the correct root cause it is imperative to look at things as a system—interconnected pieces working in concert with each other. 


The second system is to treat and use the ergonomics program as another business system.  Many companies already use a form of process improvement and lean in their operations.  What are they?  They are a type of business system that focuses on improving and reducing waste within the business system.  Similarly, ergonomics is focus on optimizing business system and human performance.  Ergonomics is a business system.  Only when fully integrated into business operations will your ergonomics program achieve its full impact on your company.


2.      Tie into the mission and strategic initiatives of the company

It’s probably a very safe bet that ergonomics isn’t mentioned in the mission and value statements of your company.  It might be listed as a strategic initiative, but again I would venture to say that that is highly unlikely.  However, does your company have initiatives that are focused on increasing employee engagement?  Reducing production time/unit?  Increasing quality?  If so, those are exactly the point and purpose of ergonomics.  Remember ergonomics is used to increase productivity, efficiency, quality, employee satisfaction/retention, customer satisfaction and safety.  Ergonomics should be used with any initiative that involves one or more of these things.  In addition, when ergonomics is aligned with the company’s operating goals, the program will automatically prove its benefit and value to the company’s bottom line.


3.      Effective Business Case

Does your ergonomic program struggle for funding each year?  If so, why?  What is your business case built on?  One of the most common limitations and mistakes I see with ergonomic programs is that they are built only on preventing injuries.  The entire business case on built on decreasing workers’ compensation costs and injuries.  There isn’t anything wrong with using ergonomics to focus on injuries; however, it is only a fraction of the impact of ergonomics.  We all know that ROI (return on investment) is calculated by dividing the benefits of the ergonomic process by the cost of the ergonomic process.  The only way to improve the ROI is to either have minimal cost or to broaden the benefits of ergonomics.  The first can present a challenge; the latter can easily be done if one is aware of the many stakeholders and benefits of ergonomics.  Here’s a partial list of the key stakeholders and their associated “pain points” that ergonomics can benefit:

·        Plant manager—profits, everything listed below

·        EHS manager—injuries, reducing risk

·        HR manager—employee satisfaction, engagement, retention, turnover

·        Operations/engineering—productivity, quality, cost/unit, time/unit

·        Employees—personal safety and satisfaction

·        Supervisors—job rotation schedule, employees on restricted duty

By including all of these stakeholders the benefits to the company are greatly increased with a ROI that every CFO can love.


One other point on ergonomic business cases that are based solely on injuries—what happens when your injuries go away?  If your ergonomics program is based only on injuries, then it doesn’t need to continue once your injuries are gone.  Don’t be surprised or upset if your ergonomics program isn’t being funded fully or is being cut when you limit your program and business case only to work comp and injuries.  Once the injuries goals are achieved, there is no reason (ROI) to continue ergonomics—unless ergonomics is used as a business system and is used improve system performance.  Then and only then will ergonomics truly be embraced and appreciated by all levels of the company.


4.      Ergonomic performance standards built into everyone’s performance expectations

Everyone in a company has performance standards on which they are evaluated which are done at least on an annual basis.  Examples of these standards include staying within or under budget, completing tasks within or under the expected timeframe and assembling or producing products within or under expected defect rates.  So where are the ergonomic standards?  If there is no performance expectation for ergonomics for each employee (top to bottom) then the success rate of the ergonomics program will drop.  This is where tying ergonomics to strategic initiatives and performance expectations meet.  Typically is a company has a strategic initiative then most everyone in the company will be involved and/or expected to contribute to that goal.  Making ergonomics a known and vital process to everyone and presenting a reasonable and measureable performance indicator that goes on everyone’s scorecard will result in ergonomics becoming ingrained in the culture.  The saying “if it’s important to my boss, it’s important to me” holds true from the top down.  Think about this.  Say you have 10 things sitting on your desk that need attention and you know that you will be measured and held accountable for three of those ten.  Which ones do you think you’ll focus on first?  The three that you will be measured on.  Performance standards—an essential component frequently overlooked.


5.      Real time metrics combined with continuous improvement

The fifth and final essential component is metrics, specifically real-time (leading) metrics.  Leading metrics are those that occur before the event.  Lagging metrics are those that occur (are measured) after the event.  Lagging metrics seems to be much easier and therefore used the most, especially those related to injuries, lost days and costs.  But when do those metrics appear?—after the fact.  Do they let you know how your ergonomics program is doing today?  Not at all.  It tells you how it was doing yesterday.  The key with metrics are two-fold.  One is to find metrics that address all of your stakeholders.  The other is to use those that are leading or concurrent.  The purpose is to let you know how your ergonomics program is doing today and to alert you to “molehills” before they turn into mountains.  Ergonomic leading metrics will relate to risk and to performance barriers.  Here are a few examples of leading metrics:

·        Percent of workstations/tasks/processes that are at low risk

·        Percent of targeted workstations/tasks/processes that have been assessed for risk

·        Number of new workstations/tools/equipment/processes assessed for risk prior to purchase/implementation

·        Percent of employees targeted for ergonomic training

There are plenty of other leading metrics that can be used.  The main point when determining metrics is to think of today, not yesterday.  Use these metrics to assess your ergonomics program and to make improvements.  Continuous process improvement should be a given part of your ergonomics program. 


If you have an ergonomics program, do you have all five of these essential components?  If you’re planning on implementing a program, do you have all five of these in your plans?  If so, I congratulate you!  You’re well on your way to success.  If not, take a step and consider how the inclusion of one or more of these components will impact the success of your program.  It will be well worth the time and effort to add these to your program.


If you want assistance with your ergonomics program or have questions in general, please do not hesitate to contact us.  We’re here to help to you make your ergonomic program a successful system!