CINCINNATI - A computer system developed by Ford Motor Co. to settle Occupational Safety and Health Administration record-keeping violations may one day help the company make ergonomics improvements.
But for now, the multimillion-dollar health data analysis system primarily is used to calculate how much musculoskeletal disorders associated with poor workplace ergonomics are costing the company.
For example, the system tracks not only medical treatment costs but also the number of days an employee is away from work due to injury. It also links every visit to the company's on-site occupational clinics to the payroll system for analysis of injury trends by department and job. In addition, the system can calculate a cost-per-case by adding together an individual's injury costs and workers' compensation benefit payments.
RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING
The data collection starts the minute the injured employee arrives at the on-site medical department seeking treatment and continues until he or she returns to full capacity, explained Susan Pastula, an epidemiologist at Ford in Dearborn, Mich.
Eventually, 'what comes out are single-plant or companywide anal-yses,' she said during a session at a conference, 'Managing Ergonomics in the 1990s,' co-sponsored by the American Automobile Manufacturers Association and the Center for Office Technology last month in Cincinnati.
For example, when she asked the system to determine the total cost of Ford's 1995 ergonomics injuries, she found it totaled $15 million, or 41 percent of Ford's occupational injury costs for that year.
When she asked the system to further break down the data by body part, it found that $7.2 million of those costs were associated with injuries of the arm, shoulder or both. It also found the most expensive injuries were those of the head and neck, while lower back and hip injuries resulted in the most lost work time.
The system found that back sprains and strains make up 30 percent of the ergonomics-related disorders at Ford, said Gordon Reeve, a corporate epidemiologist who spoke at the conference.
RESPONSE TO OSHA
The system, which cost Ford 'in the millions,' was developed in response to Occupational Safety and Health Administration record-keeping violations that resulted in fines totaling some $1.5 million in 1989, Reeve explained.
'We had a tremendous legal exposure because data collection was highly variable,' he said. Medical directors at each of Ford's 55 production facilities and warehouses, which employ some 100,000 workers collectively, kept records separately with no uniform system to standardize the data, he said.
Also complicating data collection is the fact that these plants span 16 states, each with different workers' compensation laws.