Ergonomics—A fresh look

While Ergonomics remains an indisputable method of preventing workplace injuries and boosting production, the myths and misconceptions surrounding the “E” word has had a tremendous affect on the integrity of this science. Debunking these misconceptions will give you a clear picture of how ergonomics can indeed be a great asset to your organization.

Did you ever notice how the operations folks cringe whenever the “E” word is mentioned? Just the mere utterance of ERGONOMICS is enough to send even the most forceful of managers running for cover. Do those operations folks not care about the people who work for them? I am certain the vast majority of them do. They just equate ergonomics with costly changes to the facility that often yields little in the way of benefits.

Why this negative perception? I don’t claim to have all the answers, nor do I claim to have a definitive answer. I do, however, have a definite theory. The negative perception of ergonomics held by many on the operations side is our fault. That’s right; we safety professionals have sabotaged the reputation of ergonomics. First, we have done little to combat the perception that work performed for compensation is the one and only cause of ergonomic injuries.

Those rounds of golf, tennis games, and hobbies had absolutely nothing to do with it. Second, we have fostered an inappropriate approach to the application of ergonomics. In the typical approach we go and look at existing work stations analyze the movements and apply the principles of the mystical science of ergonomics to recommend costly renovations to an improperly designed facility, product, or work practice. Ergonomics approached as a standalone science is at best grossly inefficient.

Based on this theory, what I recommend is as follows. Employers should adopt a broader approach to safety and provide their employees with information they can apply to their off the job activities. Educating a workforce about how activities such as golf and hobbies can affect their bodies would help to reduce ergonomic injuries and increase workplace productivity. More importantly though we owe it to those relying upon us for their safety to apply ergonomics in the work place more efficiently. This can best be achieved if we stop treating ergonomics as a standalone science. To get the maximum benefit from an ergonomics program we need to be proactive active by treating ergonomics principles as a set of design parameters to be applied up front whenever we design or specify tools, machines, equipment, work processes, and products.

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