What is Ergonomics?
Per Merriam-Webster, Ergonomics is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely. Or more simply put, it is the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment.
The word ergonomics comes from the Greek word “ergon” which means work and “nomos” which means laws. It’s essentially the “laws of work”. It is optimizing the work environment with the person doing the work.
This guide to ergonomics is the first place to get you started on implementing and understanding ergonomics for yourself or your company.
The goal of ergonomics is to fit the job to the worker. That means fitting the work-station, tools, and equipment to you so that your job is more efficient and safe for you.
Why is Ergonomics Important?
Ergonomic assessments have many benefits for both employers and employees. Employees across many occupations are exposed to a multitude of health risk factors in the various workplace settings.
These factors include but are not limited to issues such as:
- Lifting heavy items
- Pushing and pulling heavy objects
- Wrong body postures
- and many more
Due to these factors and issues in the workplace musculoskeletal can occur when done incorrectly.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are the most common reported causes of loss of work and absenteeism. The big thing to remember with these is that they are preventable.
That is the bread and butter of why ergonomics is so important for everyone.
What is the Goal of Ergonomics?
Fitting the job to the worker. Throughout the blog, you will see this recurring trend with the advice and suggestions given.
It is always easier to fit the job to the person than it is to fit the person to the job. More precisely, the goal is to study how the employee interacts with the tools they are using.
Tools can be various things depending on the occupation and industry you are in. For example, in an office setting your tools are your desk, computer, chair, and monitors.
In a manufacturing setting, it could be your drills, rivets, or the tables that you are working on.
This is why ergonomics is such a widespread term and is found throughout all occupations. There is always a tool that a human is interacting with that needs to fit that person.
What are the Benefits of Ergonomics?
I think the number one benefit of the field of Ergonomics and having an assessment done is the prevention of injury.
Injury prevention, as a Physical Therapist, is my primary goal.
I would love to be out of a job as far as treating injuries. If I could prevent them all I would be a happy camper.
Ergonomics is the place to start to prevent workplace injuries.
Other benefits of having an ergonomic assessment
1. Ergonomics creates a better safety culture.
From an employer and employee aspect, this is huge.
It means that the company is committed to helping its employees stay safe and injury-free.
Safety is about more than not having injuries it is about keeping people safe and feeling confident that their employer is doing things the right way to achieve this goal.
2. Reduce costs
Every $1 of every $3 in worker’s compensation costs are related to musculoskeletal disorders and injuries, which are PREVENTABLE!
3. Improved Productivity
By designing a workstation around an employee you aren’t only reducing injury risk but you are also making the work more efficient.
If the employee doesn’t have to reach as far or lift as much they are able to do more work in a shorter amount of time with the same amount of effort.
Ergonomic assessments can increase productivity by 25%.
4. Decreased Work Errors
Workers that are fatigued and frustrated due to their job setup (poor ergonomics) don’t do their best work.
More scrap pieces are produced, when working on a computer errors in documents are made or tasks are simply missed because the employee isn’t able to give their attention to what they are doing.
What is an Ergonomist?
An ergonomist, who is also known as a human factors specialist, is concerned with the efficiency and safety of equipment and systems to ensure the health of the users.
In other words, an ergonomist brings knowledge of the capabilities and the limitations of humans to systems so both the system & people work effectively.
The role of the ergonomist is to study all aspects of the relationship of the system to then fit the job to the person performing the work.
Alterations that an ergonomist may look at changing are the desk height/fit, chair fit, or redesigning the work process to better fit the employee. These alterations can even include changing lighting levels and more.
An ergonomist uses scientific data to mold a physical environment in such a way that it provides ultimate comfort, safety, and efficiency of the job being done by that person.
There are many backgrounds that can lead to a person becoming an ergonomist.
First, is the way that I came about being one and that is through physical therapy.
However, let’s back up a little and do the bare minimum.
Almost all ergonomists will have a bachelor’s degree of some sort. Usually in the field of human factors, biology, kinesiology, physiology, or something similar.
To further your education, you may be required to have a master’s in biomechanics, human factors engineering, or a degree in occupational health and safety.
After these degrees, there are also several certification programs available to show the abilities of the ergonomist.
In summary, ergonomists can have varying backgrounds and certifications to qualify them to perform ergonomic assessments. It just depends on the needs of the company what they are looking for.
What is the Ergonomic Process?
First and foremost it is proactive. You will have so much more success if the process is proactive instead of reactive.
Set things up for yourself or your employee before anything becomes an issue.
Not only will this help prevent workplace injuries but you will start with a more efficient and comfortable working environment.
There are four main steps for the ergonomic process in any environment
1. Identify potential issues
2. Assess the Risk
3. Control the Risk
4. Justify Cost of Improvements
Later we can do a deep dive into what each of these steps details and involves but this is just an overview today.
Who is Involved in Ergonomics?
This can vary depending on the setting.
For example, if you are working from home and want to have the best ergonomic setup then the only people/person involved is you, maybe your supervisor if your company is going to help with expenses.
However, if you are in a larger corporation many people will and should be a part of the process.
These people can include the employees doing the work, members of the safety and/or ergonomics team, supervisors, process managers, and even engineers sometimes.
All of these people have important input and expertise to create the best ergonomically sound environment for the employee.
In my opinion, the most important person to be involved in this process is the employee doing the work. Get their input since this is going to be the person using the setup and processes you are adjusting and changing.
Final thoughts on Ergonomics
Ergonomics is a vast subject area and can be applied to virtually every setting and job imaginable.
Not only does it create a healthier environment for you to work in but it can also save employers millions of dollars each year in the reduction of musculoskeletal injury costs.
Furthermore, why would you want to work in a setup that is going to cause you injury and pain long after you have retired and left your career?