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Evidence-Based Ergonomic Risk Analysis for Environmental Health and Safety

Software tool aids cost, liability analysis for ergonomics issues

Published: Wednesday, September 9, 2020 - 11:02

About one in two U.S. adults has a musculoskeletal disorder, costing an estimated $213 billion each year in treatment and lost wages, according to a report from the United States Bone and Joint Initiative. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are injuries and conditions to the bones, muscles, and joints that result in pain and can affect activity (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis). About 140 million Americans live with an MSD. The total of direct and indirect costs for people who have both musculoskeletal disorders and other conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or obesity is $874 billion, according to the report.

“Musculoskeletal injuries typically comprise 70 percent of a company’s injuries,” notes Mark Heidebrecht of Ergonomics International. “A successful safety program must include an effective ergonomic process. Not all musculoskeletal disorders are work-related, which is why we developed a tool for EHS leaders to utilize evidence-based, peer-reviewed research that quantifies risk factors associated with job tasks. Also considered is the potential interaction of non-occupational factors in the development of musculoskeletal disorders.”

In resolving ergonomic issues, environmental health and safety (EHS) managers must quantify and solve for ergonomic concerns, not just document that a problem is present. However, traditional ergonomic methods tend to overestimate the risk of an injury, which can send teams down rabbit holes, wasting time and money. New technologies must include an evidence-based approach based on epidemiological data. This approach focuses the team and safety managers on solving the right problem by providing them with data for setting priorities and determining the best allocation of resources.

Only with a process based on epidemiological data can EHS managers perform non-occupational analysis reports and identify potential non-occupational injuries or fraudulent claims.

Software tool aids ergonomics risk analysis

To accomplish this, EHS professionals now have access to one of the world’s largest ergonomic libraries, including one of the largest occupational epidemiology datasets to help them make the most informed decisions. Compiled and owned by Ergonomics International, the dataset comes from individually reviewed and cross-referenced peer-reviewed data. It also includes government or third-party data for use in risk-cost calculations if the clients do not want to include their data or do not have the data required.

Along with the database, the company employs a statistical epidemiologist, and has assembled peer-reviewed studies focused on ensuring the latest and best answers to ergonomic and human factors impacting the challenges that companies face. Infocus EHS is a next-generation evidence-based EHS and ergonomic risk-analysis solution. It is an affordable, mobile-compatible SaaS (software as a service) solution that accurately documents and reports ergonomic risks in real time.

Information is entered via computer or mobile device in a number of ways. Data can be entered using form-based methods such as an inspection or observation of a task and completing the required response about that particular task, or even giving associates surveys about the difficulty of the task. Data can also be entered into the system using quick response (QR) codes and video for more advanced ergonomic analysis or EHS tracking and monitoring.

The risk-analysis tools quantify the true risk of a job rather than providing an abstract number or color to signify a risk level.

Mobile compatibility eliminates traditional methods of dual entry that create lags in data analysis and potential introduction of errors.


Figure 1: Ladder inspection example (Click image to enlarge)



Figure 2: Simple ergonomics assessment example (Click image to enlarge)



Figure 3: Real-time dashboard results (Click image to enlarge)


Figure 4: Mobile ergonomics assessment app (© 2020 Ergonomics International)

The culture around EHS

“Companies must recognize the importance of culture in reducing musculoskeletal injures,” says Heidebrecht. “Employees who feel they are valued are 70-percent less likely to file a worker compensation claim. The unique process involves shop-floor employees identifying ergonomic opportunities and potential solutions, and creates self-worth and value as ergonomic risks are identified and mitigated.”

Creating a comprehensive approach ensures that true ergonomic risks are identified, that potential non-occupational claims can be denied, and that corporations can produce a high-quality product faster and safer.

The objectives of an EHS ergonomics program include:
• Accurately quantify ergonomic risks by body part.
• Identify and use leading indicators to make early decisions.
• Reduce ergonomic risks known to contribute to the development of musculoskeletal disorders.
• Provide ergonomic teams with data to make evidence-based decisions.
• Provide data to operations and engineering to quantify changes in risk.
• Lead ergonomic teams to solutions that quantify changes in ergonomic risk.
• Implement job-rotation strategies based on evidence-based research.
• Reduce exposure to non-occupational and potentially fraudulent claims.

Fraudulent injury claims analysis

In addition to quantifying true risk, Ergonomics International has developed and patented a process that flags potentially fraudulent claims. If the ergonomic risks of tasks are not consistent with the claimed injury, the system will flag the injury claim as one that should be further evaluated before accepting.

Dashboard reporting can be customized to provide the most valuable information at each level of the corporation. The tools focus on leading indicators that allow the organization to get ahead of the injuries and focus on prevention.


Figure 5: Customizable dashboards and reporting (Click image to enlarge)

With the nonstop, rapidly changing pandemic challenges, ergonomic risk-analysis tools must provide management with real-time data to make evidence-based decisions. Reports generated from the tool are simple enough for ergonomic and safety teams to understand and apply immediately.

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About The Author

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

Thomas R. Cutler

Thomas R. Cutler is the President and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler Inc., celebrating its 21st year. Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 8000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 1,000 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. More than 4,500 industry leaders follow Cutler on Twitter daily at @ThomasRCutler. Contact Cutler at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com.