How Much Is Ignoring Ergonomics Costing Us

Upon hearing the word “ergonomics”, one often thinks of the shape of one’s chair or the comfiness of a keyboard. However, ergonomics goes much deeper than the form of office equipment. Ergonomics is the design of systems to fit human needs and characteristics (Bridger, 2003). Designing these systems includes studying and reducing the risks of repetitive work-related actions and strenuous activities. Although this statement is true, the study of ergonomics can include workplace factors that most don’t consider such as lighting, noise, workplace temperature, and can even include how much an individual enjoys the workplace (Parsons, 2000). Ergonomic issues often compound onto other challenges, making it difficult to determine the cause of an individual’s illness. Ergonomic deficiencies cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), ranging from temporary discomfort to disastrous workplace performance and enjoyment reductions.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are injuries sustained during workplace activities, which can be caused by poor posture, overload injuries, poor social environments, and elevated stress levels. Sometimes, it is easy to see and fix the connection between a task and its related MSD.  An example might include a repetitive typing task resulting in an aching wrist. Although some MSDs are easy to correct, MSDs still cost employees, employers, and governments billions of dollars every year (European Commission, 2004; Niu, 2010). Musculoskeletal disorders are the second most common cause of short-term absence from work and are the most common medical cause of long-term absence from work (Niu, 2010). To put into perspective how much and how often this affects employees and employers; at any given moment, 30% of US workers are suffering from inflammation, joint pain, or restricted movement, and approximately 2.3 million Canadian adults are suffering from an MSD, with a Canadian economic burden of $22 billion per year (Government of Canada, 2019; Niu, 2010). While the direct cost of MSDs in the US alone is estimated to be $13 billion, the overall cost including lost productivity, retraining costs, and lost time at work is estimated to be $100 billion per year (Niu, 2010). To make matters worse, the actual incidence of MSDs might be higher than the figures estimated in the literature. There is some good news though, it is estimated that 50% of work-related MSDs can be prevented through a more rigorous application of ergonomic principles, saving workers hours of discomfort, and an employer thousands of dollars in lost time injuries (Niu, 2010).

As previously mentioned, there are forgotten facets of ergonomics, including workplace temperature, stress, lighting, social climate, job satisfaction, scheduling, and worker independence. It is possible that multiple factors are present within a company and might cause or exacerbate workplace issues like high turnover, low-quality work, increased absenteeism, high administrative costs, and WSIB injury claims. Poor ergonomics will also facilitate personal challenges and illnesses that are more difficult to link to ergonomic deficiencies, such as depression, cardiovascular diseases, and familial problems.

All parties benefit from the optimization of workplace ergonomics, providing reduced costs for employers and increased satisfaction for workers. To avoid this, it is best to contact an ergonomist to assess the ergonomic conditions of your workplace.

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BRIDGER, R. S. (2003). Introduction to ergonomics. London: Taylor & Francis.

Parsons, K. (2000). Environmental ergonomics: A review of principles, methods and Models. Applied Ergonomics, 31(6), 581-594. doi:10.1016/s0003-6870(00)00044-2

Niu, S. (2010). Ergonomics and Occupational Safety and Health: An ILO perspective. Applied Ergonomics, 41(6), 744-753. doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2010.03.004

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) & ergonomics. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2023, from

Government of Canada, C. (2019, February 18). Imha strategic plan 2014-2018 enhancing musculoskeletal, skin and Oral Health. Retrieved January 13, 2023, from

European Commission. (2004). Statistical analysis of socio-economic costs of accidents at work in the European Union (European Union, European Commission, Luxembourg). Luxembourg: European Commission.