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Ergonomic Economics: How to Inexpensively Reduce Material Handling Injuries

Oct. 27, 2016
Material handling injuries are costing small companies billions of dollars a year. What's worse is that many of these injuries seem to be preventable. Here's how to prevent them in your workplace.

Overexertion injuries are aren't just putting a strain on workers' musculoskeletal system. These nagging injuries in the neck, back, and upper and lower extremities cost American companies about $15 billion a year in direct costs such as medial fees and indemnity payouts, according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.

The indirect cost--which includes lost wages for the employee, loss of productivity for the company, and the cost of retraining new employees--is much harder to pinpoint, says Jim Galante, chairman of the EASE Council, though he says most ergonomics experts place it between four and five times the direct cost.

That means these musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are indirectly costing at least $60-$75 billion.

Practitioners agree that 40-70% of workman's comp claims are related to manual material handling. So even on the low end, that's about $6 billion. Quadruple that for the indirect cost of $24 billion, and you get a very conservative estimate of $30 billion lost to material handling injuries.

These include relatively minor injuries such Carpal tunnel syndrome, which cost around $6,000, to serious back injuries, which can cost up to $90,000.

That money isn't lost if you work in the healthcare industry or manufacture pain pills. Those businesses are booming . But what about the small industrial companies who for so long have been the backbone of the American economy?

"Small companies just don't have the access to the professionals," says Galante, who is also director of Business Development at Southworth Products. "Very few have the benefit of an ergonomist. These small companies don’t have the healthcare pros that Ford may have."

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New Equipment Digest is a Material Handling & Logistics companion site within Penton's Manufacturing & Supply Chain Group.

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