Cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and back strains are America's fastest growing occupational injuries and health problems. They are the result of repetitive motions and continuous physical stress applications. Eighty-five percent of those who report CTDs experience some form of permanent disability. The permanence of these ailments not only affects the lifestyle of those who are afflicted, but they cost North Carolina employers hundreds of millions of dollars a year in worker's compensation.
Recognizing the magnitude of the effects CTDs have on individual workers, employers and the state, the state's Department of Labor and North Carolina State University formed a partnership to provide solutions. Funded by a combination of appropriations and user fees, the North Carolina Ergonomics Center provides all the services employers need to fix ergonomic problems. The Center makes training, sophisticated reengineering, and applied research easily accessible.
The Center uses several channels to act as a bridge for technology transfer and information exchange between the university, state agencies, and industry in the attempt to reduce CTDs. It educates the public about ergonomics, and the causes, solutions and costs of occupational CTDs. It also helps individual employers to find and combat specific ergonomic problems in order to avoid compensation costs, enhance productivity, and remain competitive. Further, the Center works to coordinate national research efforts and collect its findings into a body of knowledge for public use.
Although it requires long-term data to sufficiently assess the effect of the Center's efforts, there have been some findings to date. One poultry processor that took advantage of the Center's resources cites a 70 percent reduction in its workers' compensation costs. A hosiery company reduced its days lost to ergonomic injuries by 57 percent even as its workforce increased by 78 percent.
The Center was structured so that overhead costs would be decreasingly supported by state appropriations. Through its user fees, the Center has generated enough funding to support itself entirely and has even generated a small amount of extra revenue.
The Ergonomics Resource Center marks a new beginning for ensuring workers' safety and well-being. It charts a unique approach to bringing ergonomics into the workplace: replacing confrontation with cooperation, and penalties with investment in healthy practices. The Center establishes a national model for achieving ergonomically safe workplaces.