“Reflections in Ergonomics”

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January 2016: Ergonomics

Recently, a good friend and colleague of mine posted a picture on Facebook of an old cassette from a conference we spoke at in 2001 (Figure 1). Our topic was ”Ergonomic Questions and Answers”. Seeing the cassette made me reflect on how far we have come with ergonomics since then.

New research demonstrates the value of reflection in helping us do a better job at work. Reflecting on what we've done teaches us to do it better next time. As we start the New Year, it's a great time for us to reflect on the impact ergonomics has made in our lives and in the workplace in achieving our health and productivity goals.

The term “ergonomics” was founded in 1857 by Wojciech Jastrzebowski and really means “the natural laws of work”. As the Industrial Revolution progressed, Frederic Taylor in 1883 applied the concepts of scientific management of work to improve factory productivity. Improvements were made by auditing a job, the tools and materials used to complete it and looking at the “fit” of the tasks and tools to further improve worker productivity and development.

The formal development of the field of ergonomics began soon after in the early 1900s with Frank and Lillian Gilbreth’s work in motion studies and shop management. It was further propelled by military needs during WWII for equipment to effectively meet soldiers’ needs during combat. Early research in this area led to “fitting the task to the worker” and was further advanced by our drive to go to the moon. Rapid growth in ergonomics has continued over the last 50 years.

I consider myself a “3rd Generation Ergonomist” because I started my career in ergonomics in 1993 (generation is every 20-25 years). I’ve been privileged to learn from those before me at national and international conferences. I remember when I first began evaluating office workers, our options in ergonomics were so much more limited in finding a better fit for the task to the worker than they are today.

• Ergonomic chairs had limited adjustability and fit, especially for larger individuals
• Armrests primarily adjusted in just height and width to the seat
• We used large, bulky CRT monitors that took up significant desktop space
• Alternative mice and keyboards were hard to come by and poorly designed
• Keyboard trays were primarily manual adjustable with no room for the mouse
• Wrist rests were wide, high and thick
• Headset quality was poor and corded to the phone on the desk
• We had limited sit to stand options and
• Microsoft and Apple were barely out of their garages!

Fast forward to the start of this decade (2010) as Human Factors and Ergonomics continues to be an area of rapid growth where “ergonomically designed” is becoming a household name and buzzword in commercials. Now ergonomics has become far more “main stream” as a strategy to improve health and productivity. With the significant advances made in just the last 10 years, the role of human factors and ergonomics is a critical component in all we do. Looking at how far we’ve come provides perspective and helps to determine our pathway to the future.

Think about your company’s ergonomics. Reflect on how much progress you’ve made in integrating ergonomics into your workplace or are you still holding onto old technology, old chairs and equipment from 20 years ago? How “ergonomically designed” are your processes and procedures or the tools, furniture and equipment you use at work? As we head into the 2nd half of this decade, how will your organization advance using the science of ergonomics to impact employee health and productivity?

For more information about how Worksite International, Inc. can help enhance your ergonomics process, please visit our Service page on our website or give us a call at 831-648-8724.


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