News & Blog

August 9, 2016

Ergonomics Pays : A Series On Lowering Costs in the Workplace : Health Issues and Costs

Health-related costs resulting from absenteeism and presenteeism

Pain is a common and disabling condition in the US workforce. Most of the pain-related lost productive time occurs while employees are at work and is in the form of reduced performance. In a large survey, men reported 5.6 hours/week of pain-related lost productive time in the previous 2 weeks and women lost 4.5 hours/week. Age did not play a major role. Total lost productive time in the US workforce was estimated at 3,839 hours with equivalent cost of $61.2 billion dollars.[1] The US Bureau of Labor Statistics Reports that in 2012, the median time away from work due to non-fatal injury was 8 days. Works 65 and older had the lowest incidence rate in 2012, but required the longest time away from work to recover, at a median of 14 days.[2]

While the health-related costs resulting from absence from work, also known as absenteeism, are obtained from insurance and labor statistics, the costs of going to work while ill, or presenteeism, are less known. A 2012 study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health showed that workers without access to paid sick leave – presumably more likely to show up at work when ill – are more likely overall to suffer non-fatal injuries.[3] Another study concluded that of all the health related costs faced by employers, one-fifth to three-fifths of those expenses could be attributable to on-the-job productivity losses.[4] The costs of absenteeism due to medical treatment, short-, and long-term disability account for about 40% of the total costs: the rest is attributed to presenteeism. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that less expensive claims have proportionally higher indirect costs: for claims $0 – $2,999 the indirect costs are 4.5 x claim cost, and for $10,000+ the indirect costs are 1.1 x claim cost.[5]

Musculoskeletal disorders among the most common complaints

In order to save money and boost productivity, companies should do everything they can to help their employees stay healthy. After all, such an approach is clearly cost-effective, and ergonomic workplaces have a substantial effect on reducing the costs associated with health-related absenteeism.

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) are among the most common work-related injuries. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, MSD incidence rate in 2012 was 37.8 per 10,000 full-time workers (FTW); the average case entailed 12 days away from work. Sprains and strains accounted for about 43% of the cases. The most common event associated with the injury at work is overexertion related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, or throwing. According to data of Liberty Mutual Research Institute, overexertion and repetitive motions accounted in 2010 for one-third of the incidents at a cost of $16 billion dollars. MSD oost twice the average Workers Compensation claim. This has been the trend in the last 20 years.


Among MSD, low back pain is the most common problem. In a large survey of over 28,000 people, one-quarter of the people who reported lost productive work time blamed it on low back pain. Absenteeism caused a loss of 1.3 hrs/week, which translates to a cost to business of $6 billion/year. Presenteeism caused a larger loss of 5.2 hours/week and an annual cost of $13.8 billion dollars.[6] This data reinforces the need for workplace accommodations that address the ergonomic causes of musculoskeletal disorders. The term “ergonomic workplaces” can cover several more factors that impact personnel at an industrial workstation, such as air quality and general risk of injury. Accordingly, ergonomics has a positive influence on 47.8 percent of all causes of illness.

[1] Stewart WF, et al (2003). JAMA 290(18): 2443-2454
[2] Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away From Work, 2012, BLS Economic News Release USDL-13-2257 November 26, 2013.
[3] Asfaw, A., Cryan, R., & Rosa, R.(2012). Paid sick leave and nonfatal occupational injuries. American Journal of Public Health, 102(9), e59-e64. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300482
[4] Goetzel, R. Z., Long, S. R., Ozminkowski, R. J., Hawkins, K., Wang, S., & Lynch, W. (2004). Health, absence, disability, and presenteeism cost estimates of certain physical and mental health conditions affecting U.S. employees. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 46, 398–412. doi:10.1097/
[6] Stewart WF, et al (2003). JAMA 290(18): 2443-2454