Deborah Read, Founder & President , ErgoFit ConsultingDeborah Read, Founder & President
Safe working conditions translate to productive work environments. Regardless of what size or type of business, protecting employees from injuries— gradual or immediate— is something that many employers address superficially by blaming employee behavior. Staffs in all industries are susceptible to different health and injury risks from doing continuous handwork, handling heavy objects, reaching out or overhead, frequently bending or twisting, and sitting or standing for long periods.

This results in musculoskeletal discomfort or disorders (MSD), which decreases productivity due to presenteeism (frequent breaks or distraction due to pain) or absenteeism (medical appointments or stay home due to pain), or restricted work duty. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 33% of all workplace injury and illness cases are related to MSD. What is this costing your organization not only indirect costs, but indirect costs which are typically 2x – 7x the direct costs?

This is where ErgoFit Consulting comes into the picture. Deborah Read, Founder and President, explains, “Implementing ergonomic solutions for the root causes of discomfort prevents musculoskeletal pain and thereby enhances employee health, performance, productivity, and retention. This, in turn, optimizes an organization’s competitiveness.”

The Seattle-based company (founded 2001) is a national health and wellness/fitness firm that embraces an energetic, fun, and practical approach to reduce injury risk and improve productivity through customized ergonomics and wellness services and products. ErgoFit Consulting’s work with all levels of an organization results in high positive impact stemming from design improvements, process improvements, and education.

In an interaction with ManageHR magazine, Deborah discusses the paramount significance of ergonomics in workplaces and how it can help organizations fuel their profitability and growth.

What are the challenges that your clients are facing recently around ‘Corporate Wellness’ and how ErgoFit Consulting is addressing them?

Today, we are seeing worries and frustrated executives and managers. The worry is due to the focus on deteriorated mental health. What they don’t understand is the relationship between musculoskeletal discomfort and depression and vice versa: each can cause the other, and then they exacerbate one another in a vicious cycle. So, providing ergonomic support to improve comfort while working will also help reduce depression. The frustration stems from their high healthcare spending. What they don’t understand is that most employees with work-related pain will not file a workers’ compensation claim. Instead, they will drive up healthcare spend through medical or allied health appointments, and prescriptions. Ultimately, executives wish they had better control over employees’ health. An injured employee is not a healthy employee. They underperform, and their talent/ skill is temporarily or permanently lost – which is all very costly to an employer.

This is where true ergonomic interventions play a crucial role by designing out the risk or engineering out the risk so employees can’t make decisions that are risky for their musculoskeletal health. We help employers control 6 of the top 10 most disabling injury types in the U.S. through a myriad of simple to complex methods, from self-help tools to wearable technology.
With the sudden transition to working from home due to COVID-19, CHROs, HR managers, facility managers, and safety managers largely neglected their employees’ ergonomics. According to a Chubb survey, this has resulted in new or worsened MSDs by as much as 41% in the U.S. A national analysis of data based on US BLS, Liberty Mutual, and the National Academy of Social Science shows that costs associated with MSDs during the first three quarters of 2020 surpassed the annual cost during each of the prior 5 yrs! In addition, researchers estimate up to a 16% increase in MSD claims between roughly Jan 2021 - Jun 2022. The average cost of an individual ergonomic claim in the US is about $17K making MSD claims a large expense for employers. But we can stop all this!

Please throw more light on how ErgoFit caters to clients in terms of the process and methodology.

The first thing we do is understand our clients’ ergonomics maturity level and their goals, culture, and initiatives because we want our solutions to have a better chance of “sticking”. We then map out a phased set of solutions to help them achieve their objectives and slowly move them toward best practices. The process is very concentrated, customized, and collaborative.

Any employer willing to hunt down and kill the root causes of musculoskeletal injuries will have a massive competitive advantage

Our company provides a blend of on-site and virtual services plus digital self-help tools. Most companies have this misconception that they need to meet us face-to-face. But since the pandemic, we’ve expanded our digital offerings. By leveraging video calls and virtual conferencing technologies, we offer virtual assessments and training that covers everything from home office workers to lab scientists to facilities maintenance personnel to fire-fighters. Our video-based assessments have provided ergonomic safety and efficiency improvement recommendations close to the level we can provide from in-person assessments. And our new multi-joint wearable sensors system will reduce on-site time as well.

Could you please cite one or two case studies on how you have enabled clients to overcome hurdles and attain desired outcomes?

We’ve worked for years with Tableau Software, a data visualization company, to provide a consistent and valuable service to their employees. Before us, they had partnered with several other ergonomics providers whom they didn’t find satisfactory. However, after working with us, they have reported consistent and regular positive feedback from employees, and they have attested to our professionalism, open communication, expertise, and passion for ergonomics.

Another client was Seattle City Light, a utility that used our proprietary Ergonomics Benchmarking Survey to measure the strengths and weaknesses of their office and industrial ergonomics programs. Their program goals are to reduce injury, speed up return to work, and become more proactive rather than be reactive. Our survey provided an easy to understand snapshot for senior leadership with actionable continuous improvement ideas to incorporate into budgeting.

What, according to you, are the distinct features of ErgoFit Consulting that give it a competitive edge?

I started ErgoFit Consulting in 2001 with a bleeding-edge understanding of the intersection of health protection (ergonomics & safety) and health promotion (wellness) to achieve ZERO injuries. Even today, we’re among a tiny group of U.S. firms that offer solutions across both these realms. And we’re also one of a few firms providing non-office ergonomics work.

We are speedier and more nimble than our competitors. We understand the unique nuances of our clients and are willing to customize offerings or combinations of offerings to help them grow and scale their organizations in a profitable manner.

We embrace technological innovation while also being very scrutinous about it. We have been the first to market with technology among our similar-sized competitors. We have an internal continuous improvement mindset that leads to the development of new offerings almost every year, stemming from client requests or to fill a gap we see on behalf of our clients to add value.

What does the future look like for ErgoFit Consulting?

The pandemic allowed us to expand our teams to roughly 15 regions nationally and extended our virtual assessments and training to Canada, Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Our team is also very excited about our recent launch of an industrial ergonomics wearable sensors system and analytics services.