-Dr. Ronald S. Leopold MD, MBA, MPH
In the opening morning keynote session of the 2008 National Ergonomic Conference and Exposition, Dr. Leopold gave us an entertaining and compelling approach to real world ergonomic issues and sustainability versus short term results. Leopold has an impressive 10 year background in occupational medicine where he has worked closely with ergonomists on Muscular Skeletal Disorders and seen first hand the benefits of an ergonomics program.
He explained that productivity is more important than ever in today’s economy. In the current business climate, we must better justify our RIO by explaining what ergonomics does for industry in a clear manner. Healthcare costs are increasing at a much faster pace than other business related costs. We must get away from the kind of short term thinking that has gotten the stock market in trouble as businesses focus on quarterly profits over logical, sustained, long term results. When focusing on long term viability of a company, there is a business value in a healthy worker population.
As most of us know, our healthcare system is flawed. Most money is spent for treatment instead of prevention. We need to move towards prevention as a way to keep workers health and reduce healthcare costs. The employers cost for healthcare is hurting our countries competitiveness and most of this spend is on treatment. Ergonomics has a long history of showing decreases to healthcare costs. Ergonomics primary focus is on prevention and fitting job tasks to the capabilities of workers is even more important as we age.
Baby boomers (born 1946 – 1964) are 78 million strong and their average life span is increasing. In 1935 the average 60 year old lived to 70. In 1965 the average 60 year old lived to 75. Today the average 60 year old lives to 80. In 2015 it will increase to 85 years old. Thus, in order to fund a retirement for a longer lifespan, most people will work a few years longer during their lifetimes.
As we get more aging workers in industry, we will experience more health issues (chronic disease, more susceptible biomedical issues). And chances are that social security isn’t going to support older workers in the future as it does today. The value of risk protection and injury prevention will grow as we work to an older age. Younger boomers will delay retirement even more and babies born today may live into the triple digits. There are also Medicare financing concerns. People will be forced to become more responsible for their own health as they carefully plan to be in the workforce longer. The value of ergonomic intervention is increasing as it serves both the interests of the employer and the worker. The dollars invested by employers for ergonomic improvements are a valued job benefit and will increasingly create employee loyalty as workers age gracefully while working productively.
Finding a balance between preventative expense (ergonomic equipment costs) and treatment expense (healthcare treatment costs) is the new benefits equation that must be solved. Productivity is more important than ever but we also must focus on human capitol.
Key points: 1. Recognize the need for productivity for the viability of a company 2. Aging issues are growing 3. We must focus on sustainability instead of only short term results 4. Funds invested by employers for ergonomic related improvements are a valued job benefit and will increasingly create employee loyalty as workers age gracefully while working productively.