Well, a couple of weeks ago, I reported on an upcoming free audiocast titled, "Applied Ergonomics in an Outsourced World." At that time, I wondered, what does ergonomics have to do with outsourcing. It seems that if you're an American ergonomist, it matters a lot because the source of your employment — primarily manufacturing firms — is drying up.
Dr. Sue Rodgers presented a cogent discussion of the issues, though she based much of her material on Lew Dobbs' book, Exporting America, which isn't exactly an objective or academic work. Among her points:
- Designers and engineers are under a great deal of pressure to speed up their work, which means pulling in an ergonomist just slows the process down.
- The kinds of work that that the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to see growth in over the next decade involve waitressing, janitorial, food pre, cashiering, and so on. These aren't exactly high-paying/large-employment-number types of jobs. Ergonomists won't be called into your neighborhood Denny's to see how to improve the repetitive motion plight of the dishwasher.
- Addressing the ergonomic needs of people in other cultures is a tough sell — they don't necessarily realize or want to acknowledge that they're abusing their bodies. If they don't want to do the work, there's always somebody at the back door lined up to take the job.
That said, if you're managing people in an outsourced environment or evaluating service providers, it's certainly worthwhile to take into consideration the working conditions of the staff doing the work.
Even high tech people can benefit from the recommendations of an ergonomist. (I had somebody evaluate my work set-up, and her suggestions have made a real improvement in the way my neck, shoulders and wrists feel after a day at the computer.)
Although Dr. Rodgers didn't address the topic of competitive edge enjoyed by companies that take care of the physical needs of their staffs, surely it has some impact on how people feel about their employers. And that can make a difference in turnover (how quickly would I leave a company that treats me well?) and absences and expenses due to on-the-job injuries.
You can read the PowerPoint slides from the presentation here.