Workplace Design and the Cost of Poor Ergonomics


Repetitive strain injuries caused by poor workplace ergonomics have become increasingly expensive for UK employers. This has made intelligent workplace design a critically important issue for companies.


Limiting Repetitive Strain Injuries

The National Health Services reports that many factors are thought to contribute to the risk of developing repetitive strain injuries, however, workplace-related issues are the most common. The collective injuries and disorders are categorized several ways. In the UK, repetitive strain injuries (RSI) are also classified as Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorder Statistics (WRMDS).


The prevalence of RSI is equally frequent in small workplaces as it is in large companies. RSI impacts 570 per 100,000 employees in small and large workplaces. Medium-sized workplaces averaged 460 per 100,000. The costs to employers for these types of employee injury is obviously considerable. Conservative estimates estimate the annual cost to UK industry to be between £5 billion – £10 billion.


Workplace ergonomics has become so important that thirteen institutions now offer courses in ergonomics. Health and Safety Executive reports that the number of new cases of WRMSDs in the UK was 176,000 in 2015/2016. This is incidence rate of 550 cases per 100,000 people has stayed relatively unchanged for the last five years. Although this statistic might sound discouraging for those designing ergonomic workspaces, part of the reason for the lack in decline in RSI cases is a greater awareness of the problem. Education efforts by NHS and companies are working to prevent RSI but also educate workers on the symptoms. Most cases of RSI can be quickly treated if they are caught in the early stages. Often, future reoccurrences of RSI can be prevented through small adjustments to an individual’s workspace.


In spite of the increased awareness of RSI, an estimated 8.8 million working days were lost due to WRMSDs in 2015/16. This is an average of 16 days lost for each case. Work related musculoskeletal disorders still account for 34% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health. This shows that there is still more to be done in order to prevent RSI.


Furniture manufacturers have developed designs to address ergonomic concerns and many companies now have policies in place to try to limit these types of injuries. These ergonomic workspaces have been shown to be a huge help but they don’t prevent every case of RSI. Flexible workstations like the stand/sit desk are the next evolution in ergonomic furniture design. By allowing users to move and change positions while working, many employees can avoid RSI.


Other RSI considerations also come into play with comprehensive office design. Tailoring the layout to meet the needs of a specific organisation can go a long way toward reducing the risk of employee injuries.


Because of the variations in individuals and company work processes, it seems unlikely that there will ever be a one size fits all solution to reducing RSI. Fortunately, by carefully looking at the type of work performed, how employees work together, and the typical routine in a workplace, it is possible to find unique workplace designs to make each business safer and more efficient.