Years ago, industry groups were arguing about the efficacy of ergonomics as a science, was it real or was it “junk science?"
No one was discussing costs, but they were fighting over a science that England, Sweden, Australia and other countries have applied and known about for years.

ERGONOMICS means fitting the task to the worker. Ergonomics brings safer more productive jobs. There are ergonomic risk factors based on human capabilities and the job designs (awkward postures, repetitive motions, leaning on elbows and forearms, internal forces produced by external forces such as the tools and equipment used, gripping the spray gun trigger, working with circular saws, spindle molders, etc.), all created by the work and the workstation. These ergonomics risk factors are the potential for injuries and illnesses. We want to work smarter not harder. Work by definition is hard but should not be hurtful and never unsafe.

We have learned that in order to do business, it costs money and big money to boot. If you don’t control your costs, you lose money and big money. You could actually lose jobs, customers and your business. So, what do you do?

You want to better understand your own costs and where you can derive benefits. A big company might hire a management consultant to find out where the profits are going. A small company can look at its checkbook. One of the things the experts say is “to calculate an incident’s impact on your profitability, you should use your profit margin to determine the amount of sales required to pay for the incident.”

Why Ergnonomics Matters
So how does ergonomics fit into the picture and how does it apply to woodworking? Whether you are a hobbyist or a large manufacturer, you want to work efficiently and smarter. You don’t’ want a work-related injury as it could put you out of business and a large manufacturer does not want to incur workers’ compensation costs and lost worktime for its employees.

Wow, every ergononomic/safety incident impacts an owner or company’s profitability. That’s one of the things we have learned and it is a hard lesson.

The cost benefit of ergonomics and safety process are measurable and invaluable. We are able to maintain employees that we hire and train, keeping them on the job. We are able to maintain our aging workforce with reduced risk of injuries. There is reduced turnover, focused and measurable training results, reduced absenteeism and lost work days, increased productivity, reduced rework and scrap which leads to less waste and cost savings. Overhead costs are reduced, quality is up, and maybe…no recalls. Can you imagine what numbers could be derived with reduced workers’ compensation and disability claims costs? Can you fathom what that savings does to any company’s profits?

We have learned the profits go right to the bottom line. Management is happy, employees are happy, suppliers are happy, customers are happy and shareholders are happy. We have learned we cannot lose with this philosophy. If you think about it, we have learned a lot.

This is the first article on Ergonomics for Woodworking. Down the road, I will cover topics that are not only current but will help you with your work and your employees. As an example, why is it that each year, more than 100 workers are killed, and many more are injured, while repairing or maintaining machines? Why is the grip on a manual tool so important to a worker’s health? What are companies doing about combustible dust and what are you doing in your garage or basement?

Stay tuned.

Editor's note: Cindy Roth has been a professional in the ergonomics, safety and health industry since 1987. In 1993 she co-founded Ergonomic Technologies Corp. (ETC). Roth was elected as a trustee to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Foundation Board, and has served as Past Chair and most recently was elected to serve on the Council of Professional Affairs (CoPA) for ASSE. She also been the chair of the Greater NY Safety Council and has written articles about ergonomics for several publications. As an aside, Roth's father was a woodworker and cabinetmaker for 60 plus years with a complete woodworking shop in the basement of the family’s home in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at croth@ergoworld.com.

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